Transgender Student: Catholic Church Nearly Killed Me. Georgetown Saved Me.’

Lexi Dever, center, taking part in Georgetown’s National Coming Out Day celebrations

Much of Catholic higher education in the U.S. is fairly supportive of LGBTQ students. Many colleges offer supports as is evident in New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly colleges listing, though these supports vary in quality and intensity.

Schools often face conservative critics who wrongly claim such supports contradict church teaching and endanger ecclesial affiliation. Common to all such schools, however, is a refusal to let more restrictive interpretations of Catholic identity interfere with meeting students’ needs.

A recent essay from Georgetown University student Lexi Dever, who is transgender, makes clear why, in her words, these supports are “of fundamental importance” on Catholic campuses.

Writing in Georgetown’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, Dever describes a Catholic upbringing riddled with suicide attempts and deep pain about her gender identity:

“I was raised a Catholic. My father is an ordained deacon. I was an altar server for my entire youth. . .I know Catholic teaching inside and out. I was never told that the LGBTQ community had anything positive to offer to the world. Catholicism was everything.”

Coming to college, Dever still suffered deeply thinking she was an “abomination” and a “freak” but the University’s queer community helped her see “a world where I could exist and not hate myself.” Dever, an employee of the LGBTQ Resource Center, wrote positively of the University community:

“Georgetown does go against the Catholic Church in its acceptance of the queer community. In the ideal that we should respect each other, Georgetown embodies Catholicism better than the Vatican itself.

“Georgetown has made a space for me and for the queer community. Some Palestinian guy once said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves and when asked for clarification, he used a story about a Samaritan to illustrate that our neighbor is anyone in need. You may know the story. . .

“The Catholic Church nearly killed me. Georgetown’s refusal to go along with all of its teachings saved me.”

Georgetown University’s manifold LGBTQ initiatives saved Dever’s life, she stated. To critics who would eliminate such supports, Dever said she would not be here if such programs did not exist: “I would very literally be dead.” Indeed, as she pointed out, transgender individuals suffer abhorrent rates of suicide and violence far surpassing societal averages. She continued:

“Have I told you yet that the average lifespan of a transgender person is 31 years? Let me clarify that: my lifespan is 31 years. If I am ‘average,’ I will be dead within the decade. Let that sink in for a second. There’s a reason I’m not thinking about marriage, children or even long-term career plans. I do not want to plan for a life I probably will not get to live.”

When it comes to Catholicism, or even religion generally, Dever expressed no plans to return to church membership, saying the scars inflicted “will never heal.” She did appeal to Catholic students though, particularly those of a more conservative bent who would undermine LGBTQ supports. Noting that October was Respect Life Month, she wrote:

“I would like to make a request as you celebrate this. Lead by example. Respect life. Respect queer lives. Respect mine.”

Lexi Dever’s column (which you can and should read in full by clicking here) establishes plainly why Catholic campuses must, as a moral imperative, provide adequate resources and supports for LGBT community members. Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will recall numerous posts about how Georgetown University has previously led the way for LGBT inclusion in Catholic education. Other posts in our “Campus Chronicles” series reveal just how far Catholic higher education in the U.S. and elsewhere has to go before all are welcomed, safe, and affirmed.

Readers who have followed this blog regularly will also recognize Dever’s name, as her father, Deacon Ray Dever, has written two moving reflections about family life for Bondings 2.0. You can read his reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family at the end of 2014 by clicking here, and you can read his call for a World Meeting of All Families by clicking here.

Georgetown’s neighbors at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, should take note. Though repeatedly denied, the school’s unofficial LGBTQ student group called CUAllies is once again pushing for equal rights on campus and university recognition. Recent changes in Washington, D.C.’s human rights laws mean the University is no longer legally protected in denying LGBT students equal access, reported campus newspaper The Tower. Students will be gathering off campus tonight for a meeting to discuss next steps.

Administrators at Catholic University and other church-related institutions should take note of Lexi Dever’s story, and those of  their own LGBTQ community members, so they can be moved to make the Gospel choice and ensure all students’ needs are being met.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

On Being a Catholic Lesbian at Georgetown University

Catholic college campuses are among the most gay-friendly church institutions in the United States.  Young people are increasingly more and more supportive of LGBT issues, and campuses reflect that spirit of inclusion.

Meghan Ferguson

Meghan Ferguson, a student at Jesuit-run Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has praise for her school in terms of their record on LGBT issues.  In a recent article on NextGenJournal.comFerguson delineates the many surprises she has had coming to the campus as a Catholic lesbian woman, and she concludes:

“Being out at Georgetown is nothing like I had expected, and I have been very fortunate to have such a positive experience, because I know it isn’t always the case for everyone.  There have been ups and downs, and Lord knows I’ll gripe about something or other, but all in all, I owe a great deal to this community for creating a space that has challenged me to look closely at myself, my priorities, and grow into the person I want to be.”

She notes that the school has helped her to integrate her identities as a Catholic and a lesbian woman:

“My experience of being out at Georgetown is predominantly colored by two identities: namely, that I am Catholic, and that I am a woman.  ‘What?’ I hear you cry ‘you’re Catholic?!’ It’s shocking, I know. I spent most of high school as a closet Catholic around all of my gay friends, lest I hear more exclamations like that. . . .

“I suppose I had expected a similar situation at Georgetown, keeping those two spheres of my identity separate, so it was a surprise to say the least when I found a whole community of us. For the first time, I was able to be out as a Catholic lesbian and not only be accepted by both communities, but be a part of my own community.

“I have had some of the most profound conversations with friends about what it means to be queer and Catholic, the unique struggles we face, our doubts, how we reconcile those two identities and also the joys we have experienced.  These conversations, and this community, are something I think is very unique to Georgetown, and it has helped me grow in my faith in a way I never thought possible; I dare even say it has made me a better lesbian, because I have learned to grapple with and embrace the intersection of my faith and sexuality.”

Georgetown University is perhaps one of the best examples of a gay-friendly Catholic college.  They have an LGBT Resource Center on campus, which last year received a $1 million gift from former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic campuses, which continues to grow, as more and more schools respond to the needs of their students, faculty and staff.   The schools on the list all have some policy, program, or organization on campus which is supportive of LGBT people.  If you would like to consult the list, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry