Transgender Support Growing in Catholic Higher Education

February 11, 2016

1375111113093Boston College students are advancing a trans-inclusive non-discrimination policy for their Jesuit-sponsored school. Below, Bondings 2.0 reports on this news and other LGBT developments, two of which reveal Catholic higher education’s growing commitment to support trans* community members.

Boston College May Include Trans* Nondiscrimination Protections

Boston College’s GLBTQ Leadership Council, a segment of student government, has prepared a report about adding gender identity and expression to the College’s non-discrimination policy. BC administrators will decide ultimately whether to insert new language or not, reported campus newspaper The Heights, which noted:

“Despite this, the proposal still remains a good first step toward its goals and, even if rejected, acts as a symbolic gesture declaring UGBC’s [Undergraduate Government of Boston College] stance when it comes to this issue.”

Widespread support among college students for more expansive LGBTQ protections will hopefully weigh on administrators’ response. Existing BC policies already include sexual orientation as a protected class. Among Catholic colleges, Georgetown University (GU)  has been the first to explicitly protect trans* students, faculty, and staff from discrimination, and the school has made some of the most progressive strides in this regard. The Heights article concluded that Boston College could, along with GU, help set a precedent for Catholic schools on trans* inclusion.

Georgetown University Hospital Dispute

A news story from The Georgetown Voice, the campus newspaper of the Washington, DC Jesuit university, highlighted difficulties that trans* students often face in receiving quality healthcare. Willem Miller, a trans junior, waited a week before going to the University’s health services because he felt uncomfortable seeking treatment there. About his hesitation, The Voice reported:

“This trepidation toward Georgetown’s health care institutions is common among the members of the small population of out transgender and gender nonconforming students. One member of this community, Lexi Dever (COL ‘16), a transgender woman and a Student Assistant for the LGBTQ Center, initially expressed her apprehension about these services in absolute terms “[I have] never [visited]the Student Health Center, I’ve never called GERMS, and I have no intention of those things changing,” she said. Dever, like Miller, attributes this steadfast hesitance to a belief that these institutions are not suited to meet the specific needs of transgender students.”

These students identified a lack of trans-specific resources or training as reasons why Georgetown University’s health services were inadequate. The article also noted a discrimination complaint against MedStar Georgetown University Hospital filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights by a trans woman, Alexa Rodriguez, who was allegedly denied surgery last year because of her gender identity.

Systemic issues about inadequate healthcare for trans* communities are widespread, Since Georgetown University has made strong efforts to welcome openly trans* students, hopefully the school will address these healthcare challenges as part of the Jesuit model of caring for the whole person.

Loyola Marymount Provides Safe Space for LGBT Mormons

A weekend conference for an organization of LGBT/SSA [Same Sex Attracted] Mormons and families was hosted  recently by Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Entitled “Knit Together in Unity and Love,” the mid-January gathering aimed to support LGBT-affirming Mormons, provide an inclusive community, and encourage participants to “make valuable contributions” both inside and out of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Catholics and Mormons can celebrate that this collaboration not only advances LGBT equality, but ecumenical relations too.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Colleges Advance on Trans* Inclusion, Including Restrooms

December 3, 2015
capture-4

Fordham University students behind the gender neutral restroom campaign

As frequent readers of our “Campus Chronicles” series know, Catholic higher education frequently leads the wider church when it comes to LGBT inclusion. Lately, more and more colleges are acting for trans* inclusion along with existing welcomes of LGB community members.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides details on some steps made for trans* inclusion, alongside other campus happenings this fall. You can read more using the provided links.

Fordham University Introduces All Gender Restrooms

Prompted by student demands, Fordham University has introduced new transgender inclusive restrooms on its Lincoln Center campus, reported student newspaper The Observer.

Though not labelled “All Gender Restroom,” as requested by student advocates with the organization The Positive, there are no gender markers on the new signage. Dean of Students Keith Eldredge said other restroom changes at Fordham’s campuses would be considered when requested by students.

Fordham’s Pride group also had a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance last month, reported campus newspaper The Ramas part of the group’s “proactive and conscious effort” to promote gender inclusion.

Marquette University Begins LGBT Masses

Fr. Bryan Massingale celebrated the first of Marquette University’s monthly Masses for LGBTQ community members. Massingale, who teaches theology, told those gathered:

” ‘Many of the LGBTQ community members have heard stories that they are not welcome in the church. . .It is important to have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them and no one is excluded.’ “

The Masses emerged from ongoing evening prayer and small group discussion opportunities offered by Campus Ministry. The next celebration is December 10, reported The Marquette Wire.

Laverne Cox Speaks at SLU

Transgender actor and advocate Laverne Cox spoke at Saint Louis University in early November, describing her personal journey and understandings of womanhood.

Georgetown University Hosts Several Events

Georgetown University launched a new bi-weekly forum for LGBT athletes, its latest peer-led discussion group facilitated by the LGBTQ Resource Center reported The Georgetown Voice.

Sophomore Lauren Gros of the Women’s Golf Team, who had trouble finding an openly LGBT student-athlete to consult with before her own coming out, will lead the group. She described it as a

“safe place for student-athletes to discuss their experiences and what it means to be gay and a student-athlete at Georgetown, what challenges we might face, what experiences we’ve had. . .”

Georgetown students also gathered earlier this month for an event marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, consisting of a memorial service and dialogue according to The Georgetown Voice.

A news story in The Georgetown Voice reflected on tensions over LGBT inclusion at the school.  The story noted conflicts in the 1980s which led to progress and today, a transgender student currently said Georgetown actually saved her.

“Dear Queer” Letter Highlights Young Catholics Welcome

Finally, a few words from a Catholic college student at Syracuse University responding to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality explained the reasons behind many young adult Catholics’ support for inclusion. Julia Mannino wrote in The Odyssey:
“I think that we, as Christians, need you; I need you, because I feel lost in my own faith. The perseverance and acceptance that I’ve seen thus far brings nothing but joy to my heart, and I cannot wait for you to experience all of the wonderful things that marriage promises us. Today is certainly a Sunday to celebrate, because in the eyes of the Lord, and finally the eyes of the law, we are all equal.”
Trans* visibility is more prominent than ever and, as they have done with lesbian/gay issues, Catholic campuses are once again leading the church at large to be more just and inclusive. The only question for the spring semester is which school will be next and, if they are not acting, why?

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Jesuit Schools Gather to Discuss LGBT Issues on Campus

April 16, 2015

Students and campus personnel from Jesuit colleges and universities across the U.S. gathered at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, last month for a weekend conference about LGBT issues at their school.

Image from dotCommoweal.org

Entitled “IgnatianQ,” the meeting was organized by GU Pride, Georgetown’s LGBTQ student organization, but was also supported by the university’s administration, campus ministry, and LGBTQ Resource Center, the first of its kind on a Catholic campus.  In an interview with The Hoyathe campus newspaper, Thomas Lloyd, president of GU Pride, explained the need for such a meeting:

“IgnatianQ is a very unique space. There are very few people who understand what it means to do LGBTQ work in a Jesuit context and there are unique challenges, concerns but also rewards … for me personally doing LGBTQ work has been how I’ve made my meaning. . . .

““I’ve always said the most important part of LGBTQ work in this [Jesuit] context is to affirm that we have a duty to LGBTQ students because our context demands it. It’s part of supporting the whole person. It’s part of being a universal church and a universal community, and a university community,”

In another Hoya article, Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ, campus chaplain, echoed the Jesuit grounding of this conference:

“The purpose of this student-led conference is to help students from Jesuit universities grow in their faith and appreciate their worth as human beings. These values are central to the Jesuit commitment to cura personalis — care for each person in their uniqueness.”

Jesuit values were the focus of one of the keynote speakers, Dan Cardinali, who is an openly gay 1988 alumnus of Georgetown and now the director of Communities in Schools, the largest dropout prevention organization in the country.

According to a news report on the conference in The Hoya, Cardinali described his struggle with sexuality while a student, and then explained how, while he lived as a Jesuit for a while after graduation, he came to understand a positive Catholic approach to LGBT people:

“As a Jesuit, I was gifted with a set of opportunities to give back to the world. It prepared me for what I do now. I realized that being gay and being Catholic … can go together, as long as we believe in the dignity of [the] human person. Overtime, we would be able … to have the courage that [it] takes to make changes. . . .

“If you believe that God is in the world, and that he never abandons, it is our life journey to discover that. There are tools to discover that, and once we made that discovery, it will prepare us for the world in unimaginable ways.”

Elizabeth Donnelly

Other speakers included Elizabeth Donnelly, a Catholic philanthropist who offered her experience on speaking about women’s equality in the church as a model for speaking on LGBT issues; Deacon Ray Dever, a father of a transgender woman, who described his family’s experiences in a Bondings 2.0 blog post last December; and Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, the director of Catholic and Latino/a Initiatives at the Human Rights Campaign.

Among the participants at the conference were a group from Santa Clara University, a California Jesuit school.  A news story in their campus newspaper,  The Santa Clara, summarized the experience of their delegation to the event:

“Students had the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ways to get more support, resources, visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ groups at their respective schools. This allowed representatives to network and share strategies for improving student engagement.

“ ‘It was cool to see how progressive some universities are and how some universities didn’t have any resources at all,’ said sophomore Adrian Chavez. ‘Santa Clara seemed to fall more in the middle of it, leaning progressive.’ ”

The Georgetown meeting was the 2nd annual gathering of its kind. The first meeting was held at Fordham University last year, under the theme, “Finding God in the LGBTQ Jesuit Campus Community.” The theme of the this year’s meeting was, ““Forming Contemplative Communities to Ignite Action.”

Georgetown sophomore Samuel Boyne, a participant at IgnatianQ, summed up his reaction to the meeting for the campus newspaper:

“I think that IgnatianQ was an essential event to host at Georgetown. As a school dedicated to educating its students on being men and women for others, the messages for which the conference stands for coincides with our Jesuit values. Specifically, as it is vital for students to come together in an environment like this to discuss the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community. . . . Overall, the opportunity to speak openly about these issues is a definite step forward.”

Catholic college campuses are among the most important leaders of LGBT equality in the Catholic Church.  The IgnatianQ conference is just one more example of how they are paving the way for a brighter future.

To read more about news of LGBT issues on Catholic campuses, click on “Campus Chronicles” in the “Categories” box in the right hand column of this page, or you can click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

dotCommonweal: “Ignatian LGBTQ & Ally conference turns two”

The Hoya: Georgetown to Host IgnatianQ

The Georgetown Voice: “Georgetown to host allied Catholic universities at second annual IgnationQ conference”

 

 

 

 

 

 


LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

December 28, 2014

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Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, the Church observes the feast of the Holy Family.  And with that observance inevitably comes reflection on the nature and meaning of the Catholic family today.  Many within the Church still seem to hold an idealized and increasingly inaccurate vision of what a Catholic family looks like, in spite of the growing diversity of the families that comprise the people of God.  As one who would count my own family among that diversity, the topic of Catholic family holds considerable personal interest for me.

In the fall of 2013, at the beginning of our son’s sophomore year at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, he came out as transgender.  In doing so, she became one of only three openly trans* students at Georgetown at the time.  This happened just a few weeks after the now famous Pope Francis interview that made “Who am I to judge?” part of our vernacular.  And with those events, my family found ourselves plunged into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face. [Editor’s note:  The term “trans*” is used as a “catch-all” word for the diverse forms of gender identities (other than the traditional male/female binary) that exist in humanity.]

In our case, there was at least one notable difference.  Besides being a husband, father, and professional engineer, I’m a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, having been ordained in 2009.  When the topic of married clergy comes up, many Catholics are taken aback when they’re told that the Church already has married clergy, mostly in the person of the approximately 18,000 permanent deacons in the US.  I can’t imagine what they would think if they realized there are Catholic clergy whose families include LGBTQ children!

Our journey has probably not been very different than the journey of any family with an LGBTQ child.  It really began with our daughter descending into a deep depression during high school.  We would learn more about depression and mental illness, about suicidal ideations and self-injurious behavior, about therapists and anti-depressant medications than we ever could have imagined or wanted.  That journey would eventually lead to questions of gender identity that were intimately connected with her mental health struggles.

When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her.  There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.

We slowly came to the realization that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son.  In fact, in many respects we got our child back, as she embraced her gender identity and emerged from the depths of depression.  All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever.  And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation.

However, family support for LGBTQ children is obviously not the rule, and is often problematic for Catholic families in particular, given the mixed and often confusing messages they hear from the Church regarding LGBTQ issues.  A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting with the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Catholic chaplain’s office at Georgetown.  While I was surprised and gratified by the warm welcome that I received as an interested, supportive parent of an LGBTQ student, I was saddened to hear that I was the exception and that there were far too many stories of families rejecting their LGBTQ children and of causing tremendous pain and family divisions.

While I am certainly not qualified or authorized to speak for the Church on LGBTQ issues, I have been commissioned by the Church through ordination to proclaim and to preach the Gospel.  And if one thing is crystal clear in the public ministry and teachings of our Lord, it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same.  For those Catholic families with LGBTQ children that are struggling with what they should do, I would suggest that they look to the Holy Family.  Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children.  As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own another, and especially love your children.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

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CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Silences LGBT Awareness, While Georgetown University Raises Standard Again

October 6, 2014

The flyer which caused the film screening to be cancelled

The two largest Catholic colleges in Washington, DC, are making headlines over LGBT issues, but in differing directions. The Catholic University of America cancelled a film screening on the life gay advocate Harvey Milk over concerns that the film opposes Catholic teaching, while Georgetown University announced its plans to host an LGBT conference for Jesuit schools next year.

The cancellation occurred the day before the CUA College Democrats were set to host the screening, with University administrators citing concerns the event had moved from education to advocacy by including a rainbow flag and the words “LGBT awareness” on an event flyer.

Besides the film, the event included talks by politics professor John White and Montgomery County Democratic chair Kevin Walling, a 2007 alumus, about how gay rights affected the Democratic party. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux says Walling expressed his disappoint about:

” ‘…number one for how they treated their students, and number two, how they treated this topic…

” ‘This seems like a regression…The fact that the university canceled this event the day of is sparking an important conversation the university should have…and hopefully some good will come out of this.’ “

Students and alumni speaking with the campus newspaper, The Tower, echoed that disappointment. Alumnus Wesley Cocozello said:

” ‘CUA is morphing from a university into the propaganda arm of the Vatican…The administration has time and again silenced the voice of her students because they dare to ask questions or start conversations that don’t neatly and tidily follow the teachings of the church.’ “

Ryan Fecteau, a 2014 alumnus who led efforts for an LGBT student group, CUAllies, that was ultimately denied recognition [disclosure: I co-led the organization with Fecteau as an undergraduate], told The Tower:

” ‘As a CUA alum who is on the verge of being the youngest openly gay elected state representative in the country, I am disappointed to see CUA digress to a point where they once again send an unwelcoming message to LGBT students…In fact, the message that the University is sending students could very well impact emotional and psychological health, it is a message that really could impact someone’s life.’

” ‘This is not the kind of culture [we] should be trying to cultivate or even our Church…Everyone in the CUA community should be disappointed by this decision. I am.’ “

On a personal note, I attended the first iteration of this “Milk and Cookies” event in 2011 and remember the conversations that developed around the embattled life of Harvey Milk to be extremely generative. University administrators persist in their empty distinction about education and advocacy, which is, in my opinion, an easy way of disregarding this issue. Many Catholic institutions, educational and otherwise, have successfully entered into the complex realities of what sexual orientation and gender identity mean. By branding events such as this screening as “advocacy,” President John Garvey and his staff have written off the issue — and thus the real and present needs of LGBT community members — altogether.

I think the comments of gay sophomore, Steve Morris, who happens to be a College Republican, best summarize my own response to this pastorally-damaging situation:

” ‘I can’t help but think if Pope Francis — he of “Who am I to judge?” — were making this decision, there wouldn’t have been an issue about it at all.’ “

Following the pope’s welcoming and merciful tone, Georgetown University is choosing a different path than Catholic University. GUPride, along with Campus Ministry and Student Affairs, will be hosting the second IgnatianQ LGBTQ Catholic conference following up on a 2013 conference held at Fordham University in New York. The Georgetown Voice reports the conference of about 200 participants from Jesuit colleges will focus on forming Ignatian-inclined contemplative communities. GUPride president Thomas Lloyd says of the event, nicknamed “IggyQ”:

” ‘It’s really important that there is transparency among the LGBTQ communities on Jesuit campuses that allows the progress of one school to influence the actions and progress of another…It was sort of healing for students who felt as though there was no place for that part of their identity on a Jesuit campus.’

” ‘We recognized what Georgetown in particular could bring to this conversation…There are very few LGBTQ spaces that exist nationally to address this question … that’s why this conference is so important.’ “

This conference is the latest effort by Georgetown University’s students and staff members to deal positively with LGBT issues at a Catholic institution. However, this inclusiveness was not always the case as student Julie Tanaka points out in that same issue of The Georgetown Voice that announced the conference. She emphasizes a key point that the University is always a “living and learning community” that needs to be held accountable for growth, a lesson Catholic University students should keep in mind as they address the silencing of LGBT awareness on their own campus.

To lend your support to CUA students, consider signing the Change.org petition asking The Catholic University of America to follow Pope Francis’ lead and create a welcome for LGBT students. You can find it here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Scholar Assesses Pope Francis’ Approach to LGBT Issues

March 1, 2014

John Langan, S.J.

Jesuit Professor John Langan has published an article in America magazine which examines the significance of  Pope Francis’ several positive statements about LGBT issues in 2013.  The article’s title “See the Person,” which references one of the pope’s remarks, sets out to answer the question, as the author phrases it: “So, what is the pope up to?”

Langan, who is a world-respected scholar and is the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University,  is positive about the pope’s comments, but cautions several times that while Pope Francis has made some remarkable statements, the pontiff has also noted that he is not changing church teaching and does not intend to.  Langan writes:

“Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in church doctrine.”

Instead of changing church teaching, Langan states, Francis is changing the church’s “stance” or method of approaching the topic of homosexuality.   While Langan believes that church teaching should not change simply because social acceptance of lesbian and gay people is increasing, he does recognize that society is at a new juncture in regard to homosexuality, and the church needs to adapt to this new moment.  Instead of change, Langan calls for dialogue and reflection:

“What seems to be called for is a time of critical reflection on the tradition to clarify what strengths are to be preserved and what continuities are to be affirmed even while searching for the sources of limitations in the teaching and acknowledging the development of new questions and problems. Critical reflection also needs to be directed to public opinion and to those who would mold it in a new direction, who often harbor naïve, incoherent and immature views, even while they think of themselves as knowledgeable and progressive. Both kinds of critical reflection require time and support for research and careful dialogue that will assess what is known and what is not known, what is hoped and what is feared. There is an ongoing need to coordinate research and information across the fields of biology, medicine, social science and ethics as well as to look seriously at the development of Christian and other religious teaching on this topic down through the centuries.”

Langan sets out four guideposts for the kind of reflection that is needed on this topic that he has discerned in the pope’s new stance.  They are:

1. Humility:  “We must acknowledge what we do not know and what we do not understand about the contemporary situation of homosexuals.”

2. Respect: ” . . . we must show respect for the dignity of homosexual persons as creatures of the one God and Father of us all, as members of the community of the redeemed and as fellow citizens of the city and the world.”

3. Realism: “. . . all parties need to show realism in acknowledging the problems of perception and trust that complicate our efforts to understand and collaborate with one another.”

4. Patience: “. . . during this period of scrutiny and reassessment, we must be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the friends and allies of the contesting groups both in the public arena and in the life of the church.”

Langan concludes by looking at what might be possible if such a period of reflection took place.  He sees the greatest change not being doctrinal development, but a different approach toward pastoral care and outreach:

“Ministry would be carried on in a more tentative, inquiring spirit; it would be more intent on providing care and encouraging growth for persons, many of whom have known many sorrows, than in implementing policies within bureaucratic and legal frameworks.”

He offers the following guidance for pastoral ministers:

“They [pastoral ministers] would proceed from a genuine desire to understand the personal and spiritual aspirations of the persons in their care instead of simply repeating the equivalent of a fatal diagnosis, which is how repeated reliance on the notion of “intrinsic evil” will likely be perceived. This is not a proposal for adjudicating the numerous issues now under dispute, nor is it a theological program for resolving the problems of implementing change in this troubled area of the church’s theology and practice. But it may serve as a partial model for addressing similar problems in areas where Catholic Christians have been putting more energy into denunciation than into dialogue, where disjunctions and fractures have been growing in scale and lethality.”

Langan’s essay is worth reading in its entirety and can be accessed here.  I think his assessment of Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality is an accurate one.  As I’ve said before, I think that the pope’s greatest contributions to LGBT issues in the church will be indirect ones, that he is paving the way for future change rather than making the innovations himself.  Langan provides a very commonsense assessment of what effects Francis’ words can realistically have in the coming months and years.

I, however, may be more optimistic than Langan about the possibility of doctrinal change.  While he suggests that the hierarchy should not change the teaching simply because public opinion on lesbian and gay people has shifted, I think he misses the point that, at least for Catholics who support LGBT issues, the shift has occurred not because, as Cardinal Dolan once suggested, that pro-gay advocates have better marketing, but because they have applied their faith to this new reality, have prayed and examined their consciences, and they have discerned that LGBT equality is consonant with how they understand the Gospel.

I fear that Langan may be too cautious about the possibility for change. In noting the pope’s new stance vis-a-vis his two most recent predecessors, Langan states: “In taking a critical view of the previous stance, one need not abandon it.”  While that may be true, I don’t think that he recognizes that a change in stance can produce some unforeseen results.  As has happened so often in church history, practice often precedes a change in teaching.

Langan’s real contribution is that he has laid out a road map for how we can get to future doctrinal development by providing those four “guideposts” mentioned above.  We’ve seen amazingly rapid change in American society and law over the past 15 years, due mainly to the fact that people started talking with LGBT people about the issues that concern their lives.  Dialogue is a powerful force, and now that Pope Francis has initiated such a period of dialogue in the church, explicated so well by Langan, who knows where the discussion and reflection will lead?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Comparing Universities Minimizes the Extent of LGBT Welcome

November 11, 2013

Georgetown U. Students during “Coming Out Day”

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,  a PBS show, recently produced a segment with the provocative title “What does it mean for a school to be Catholic?” Heavily focusing on LGBT issues as a means of discussing religious identity, the segment contrasts Georgetown University, Washington, DC,  and Ave Maria University, Florida. However, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately portrays a false image of how Catholic higher education is integrating LGBT matters as part of their Catholic identities today by comparing the institutions.

The segment begins with Georgetown, showing students celebrating “Coming Out Day” and interviews Kevin O’Brien, SJ, vice president for Mission and Ministry. Of the University’s religious identity when welcoming LGBTQ students with extensive resources, O’Brien says:

Kevin O’Brien

“To quote something Father Hesburgh from Notre Dame would often say, ‘The Catholic university is a place where the church does its thinking.’ And if that is to be the case, then we have to permit this free exchange of ideas.

“The purpose of the [LGBTQ] center is not to undermine the church’s teaching. It is a center for education. We try to teach our students and faculty and our alumni about issues of sexuality, of sexual identity and gender. That’s an expression of our Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, caring for each person mind, body, and spirit, in their unique individuality.”

This pastoral concern for the well-being and success of LGBT students at Georgetown, which this year has openly welcomed two transgender students, is sharply contrasted by the president of Ave Maria University, Jim Towey. Bordering on fundamentalism, Towey attacks institutions like Georgetown for being accepting of students’ varying sexual orientations and gender identities. Joining Towey are two students from Georgetown displeased with their university’s LGBT outreach.

Thomas Lloyd

Also speaking out for Georgetown students is Thomas Lloyd, president of the campuses’ LGBT organization. Lloyd speaks to the convergence of Jesuit and Catholic traditions meeting LGBT equality:

“By recognizing pride, Georgetown has become more true to its Jesuit values. Commitments to social justice are some of the most important and historically grounded parts of Catholic doctrine.

“I wouldn’t even think about how to reconcile my queer identity with my Catholic faith identity if I hadn’t come to Georgetown. What does it mean to be gay and Catholic? Can those two go together? And my experience at Georgetown with Jesuits and with other people who are Catholic and identify as queer on campus show me that you can.”

Where Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately falls short is in equalizing the voices of those who support LGBT people and those who seek Catholic institutions which shun such topics. Of nearly 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the US alone, more than half are listed by New Ways Ministry as gay-friendly campuses for allowing gay-straight alliances, staff resources devoted to LGBT students, and/or  policies or programming which educates and affirms on issues of gender and sexuality.  It makes it seem that there is an even split of pro-gay and anti-gay Catholic campuses, when the reality is that more and more Catholic campuses are, in fact, becoming more pro-gay.

In short, Ave Maria’s president and students interviewed are not indicative of where Catholic higher education stands on equality. Progress remains, but each week there are advances made as students, faculty, and staff advocate for and implement changes to make campuses more inclusive. Perhaps more telling than this contrast is the piece reported on earlier this fall that said: “Forget the Pope: Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.”

For more information on what is happening in regard to LGBT issue at Catholic colleges and universities, go to the “Categories” tab in the right-hand column of this page and search “Campus Chronicles,”  our blog’s series which follows the news on these developments.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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