Belmont Abbey College Misrepresents Church Teaching to Discriminate Against Trans Students

December 19, 2015

3877664057_2320d1c5f6_zLGBT groups are criticizing Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, for attaining a religious exemption which allows the school to discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, has been interpreted recently to include LGBT protections. While religious exemptions are not new, application of these provisions has risen sharply as civil rights based on sexual and gender identity have expanded.

In a January 2015 letter to the U.S. Department of Education, Belmont Abbey’s president, Dr. William Theirfelder sought an exemption for the school. Citing a California legal case affording a transgender student equal rights, Theirfelder said the College “would not be able to make similar accommodations consistent with our Catholic beliefs.” College spokesperson Rolando Rivas concurred, saying the exemption was necessary to operate “in congruence with the teachings of the church.”

Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine school, is now able to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in ten areas including “employment, the admission of students, housing and the provision of facilities like restrooms and locker rooms.” Abbot Placid Solari, Chancellor, said students will be treated based on assigned sex rather than gender identity. The president explained further, telling The New York Times:

“Among those beliefs, [Theirfelder] said, was a rejection of the idea that the ‘resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender’ can be found through gender reassignment surgery or the ‘adoption of a psychological identity’ typically associated with the opposite sex.”

Advocates, which include Campus Pride and the Human Rights Campaign, are calling attention to nearly three dozen colleges which have sought religious exemptions to LGBT protections from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The New York Times explained:

“The exemptions are in some cases wide-reaching and exempt schools from abiding by provisions of the law that they feel are inconsistent with their religious beliefs on a range of topics, including gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status and whether a person has had an abortion.”

Critics are questioning these exemptions because recipient institutions, like Belmont Abbey College, still receive government funding. Victoria M. Rodriguez-Roldan of the National LGBTQ Task Force said:

“What these universities are seeking is a license to discriminate while still receiving taxpayer money, and they are doing it out of an animus toward transgender people. . .It is what it is: discrimination and the unfair treatment of transgender people.”

 

Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride, who is Catholic himself, told Gaston Gazette:

“Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow — and taxpayers should definitely not have to pay for a private college to openly discriminate against anyone.”

Windmeyer added that failure to support LGBT youth and young adults, particularly in religious communities, is linked strongly to higher rates of mental health issues, self-harm, and suicide.

For all Belmont Abbey College’s claims about Catholic identity, it misrepresents church teaching on gender identity.

There is no clearly articulated teaching on gender transition or on the gender norms the College seeks to enforce. While a clear doctrinal affirmation may not yet exist regarding gender identity questions, there are no clear prohibitions either. London’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop, tasked with LGBTQI outreach by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has even said gender identity issues are a pastoral, not doctrinal, issue and the church should support those individuals who decided to transition. Other Catholic colleges, such as Georgetown University or Fordham University, have established supports for trans students consistent with a Catholic identity. One student, Lexi Dever, claimed Georgetown saved her life because it welcomed and nourished her as a trans student.

Belmont Abbey officials are obviously unaware that their policy is not supported by Catholic teaching, as they claim. In fact, their policy is undermining Catholic education and an approach to gender that is rooted in the Gospel and seeks the good for each and every student. Students at Belmont Abbey College deserve an apology. The Catholic faith, in whose name this exemption was claimed, demands better.

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: Gonzaga U. To Implement Transgender-Inclusive Policies

February 24, 2014

Gianni Giuliani, a transgender graduate student at Gonzaga University

While existing resources are available for transgender students at Gonzaga University Spokane, Washington, administrators knew more could be done to support gender-diverse students. The Gonzaga Bulletin, a campus newspaper, reports on upcoming changes:

“These new policies would focus on specific areas of the college system that could create barriers for transgender students. Some of these changes would include the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, a system in which students in transition can discretely change their name on all school-related records, a policy that would permit transgender students to live in the residence where they are most comfortable, as well as make medical resources easily available and non-discriminatory.”

Jaime Hollis, coordinator for special populations, said at least two motivations prompted these policies changes. The first was wanting to conform the University to Washington State law which protects sexual identities. The second is that even with the LGBT Resource Center and supportive staff in other departments, without official policy, transgender students face an uphill challenge. This could be detrimental to Gonzaga’s admissions in the future as people identify at younger ages as transgender due to broader acceptance and information in society. Hollis is quoted as saying:

” ‘If you look at the trend, [with] access to the Internet people are identifying younger as transgender because they now have the language to identify what they’re going through…Because of those dynamics, I think it’s really likely that we’re going to see an increase in trans students at all levels of education.’

“Hollis wants a system to be in place before the school has to deal these challenges.”

It appears making Gonzaga a more trans-inclusive campus will help existing students as well. The head of the University’s LGBT club, HERO, denied knowing any transgender students who were a part of it and spoke to the difficulties of being out at the school given its location in a small, rural city. The Bulletin spoke with one transgender student, Gianni Giuliani, who attended Gonzaga for undergraduate studies and is now a graduate student:

“Giuliani said he faces no major challenges on campus today, but he said that things were harder for him as an undergrad at GU from 2005 to 2009 when he was in the middle of his transitioning process.

” ‘It was really uncomfortable having to change my name and gender through the registrar’s office…Although they weren’t particularly nasty to me, it was just kind of an odd feeling … I felt they could have been more accepting of what that process is all about.’

“While Giuliani is an out and active member of the Spokane transgender community and regularly volunteers at the Inland Northwest LGBT resource center, he has never made a point of coming out on campus.

” ‘I wasn’t out…I never tried to blend in and make a big deal of it. I didn’t tell anyone. I just tried to integrate so people probably just assumed I was another guy. I might not have taken that route if there were policies in place to ensure safety and inclusion. I’d have felt like it was OK to come out.’ “

Gonzaga University was one of the first Catholic, and the first Jesuit, college in the United States to offer an LGBT Resource Center starting in 2004. The University is continuing to take its commitment to the LGBT community seriously by focusing on specific policy reforms, rather than just statements of welcome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Cancellation of Marriage Lecture Leads to Community Reflection

September 28, 2013

Providence College students at Thursday night’s forum

The decision by Providence College to cancel an event called “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage” has ignited controversy and raised questions about academic freedom at the Catholic school located in the capital of Rhode Island. However, the cancellation became more than a typical controversy around Catholic higher education and LGBT issues when students organized a constructive forum to replace the event.

The New York Times reports that an administrator notified faculty members last Saturday that a lecture by John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, Michigan, was cancelled because it defied the school’s Catholic identity.  The Times report states:

“In his e-mail announcing the cancellation, Hugh F. Lena, the provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a document produced by the American bishops in 2004, ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ to support the decision. And he said that college policy ‘dictates that that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally.’ “

John Corvino

John Corvino

Nine departments and programs at the College were co-hosting the event scheduled for last Thursday, September 26th, and Dr. Dana Dillon of the Philosophy Department was to present the bishops’ position on marriage equality during the event. Cancelling in light of these facts caused many faculty to question the College’s commitment to academic freedom. The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement yesterday condemning the decision, which you can read in full at The Providence Journal. For his part, Corvino released two statements, one about the initial cancellation and one after the rescheduling, writing in the former:

“As a fellow scholar I am offended on Dr. Dillon’s behalf…For her provost to declare her unprepared, however, is an affront to scholarly autonomy and academic freedom. It also does not speak well of Provost Lena’s confidence in his philosophy and theology departments that he believes that no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice.”

Student reactions echoed faculty concerns, but also wondered what message Providence College sent to LGBT community members in so brusquely treating Corvino and the issue of marriage equality. The campus LGBT group, called SHEPHARD, released a statement emphasizing the progress being made on campus.

Other students launched “Fighting for Academic Freedom” a Facebook page, as a form of protest.

In place of the cancelled lecture on Thursday night, students organized an open forum to discuss the administration’s decision, LGBT issues, and marriage equality. The forum included testimonials from students , as well as small group discussions wrestling with questions like, “Why is open and honest dialogue about gay marriage important to you? To the broader Providence College community?” and “How do we stay true to Providence College’s identity as a Catholic, liberal arts institution?” It ended with a larger discussion aimed at creating constructive next steps. One professor who attended wrote in an email:

“I attended the event last night and was bowled over by what came forth from our students; they compelled me to look at this whole thing with new eyes. The hurt that was expressed by our students with same-sex attraction (forgive me for being ol’ fashioned) when confronted by the efforts their college would go to prevent a gay academic coming to campus filled 64 Hall. . . .[I]t would take a person with a stone-heart not to be moved by their sense of injury that the college they call ‘home’ would act this way. I could not but help of thinking about the question Pope Francis posed when explaining his famous “who am I to judge?” comment: When God looks at a gay person, does God see a gay person or just a person? I heard lots of persons last night, and it alerted me to the reality that this is not simply a question about policy, about who said what to whom and when, but also a question of how Catholics speak about the issue of homosexuality.”

Providence College has announced that John Corvino will debate Sherif Girgis, a well-known anti-equality activist, this coming spring. Yet, for many faculty and students at the school this incident has been an occasion to come up with ways that the campus could be more welcoming of LGBT people and issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

August 16, 2013

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Professor Hopeful About Catholic Future on LGBT Issues

July 1, 2013

Paul Crowley, SJ

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on Michael O’Loughlin’s article about “Being Gay at a Catholic University,” which dove into the cultures around LGBT issues present on a variety of campuses.

O’Loughlin has posted a longer version of his interview with Paul Crowley, a Jesuit priest and professor of systematics at Santa Clara University, who once wrote that being gay is “an invitation to a different way of looking at things, and toward a deeper embrace of the very gospel that threatens to subvert our most cherished notions about the God whose name is Love.” Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a few quotes from the interview that seem telling about the future of Catholicism in the US, and you can read the full interview at Religion News Service.

When asked about the students at Santa Clara University, Crowley identifies open minds as a prevailing attribute.  The majority support and are comfortable with the LGBT community on campus.  When he is asked about their response to the official teachings on homosexuality that Crowley presents in class, he responds with a telling example of how young adults view the hierarchy’s teachings:

“When I teach my human sexuality course, I give my students the official church documents, first without commentary, tell them to read them, and then to come back to class to discuss them. They come back and ask, ‘Is this serious? Do they really mean this?’ They just can’t believe it. That’s almost the universal reaction…As a matter of intellectual responsibility, I need to help them develop a critical mind and an informed critique, and not rest content with their a gut reaction that it just shouldn’t be taken seriously. I think it’s important to try to understand these teachings from the inside out, whether you agree with them or not.”

So what would an alternative message more salient to LGBT Catholics and younger Catholics be? Crowley believes messages of love are lacking, but this has not impeded Catholics from living their faith in LGBT-affirming ways:

“What the world really needs to hear, and what we so deeply need to hear, is a message of loving mercy and inclusion, rather than judgment.  The language of ‘objective disorder’ has proved to be very problematic, to say the least. On one level, all that LGBT people in the Catholic Church are asking for is an affirmation of who they are as human beings, people whom God loves. If you say anything like this in church, people come up to you and say, ‘Thank you Father for being so courageous!’ Well, it’s not courageous, it’s just the Gospel!…

“People are living their Catholic lives, in spite of what the church says about how to live their lives. I know several gays Catholic couples. One couple adopted two children.  They attend the local Catholic church with their children, both of whom have been baptized at the parish and attend the parish school.”

And how does Crowley think the future of the Church will be, based upon his students. He speaks in hope about a new reality in the world where LGBT equality is a given for younger generations, and in hope that the Catholic Church will adapt to this changed reality:

“So the church is going to have to do some deeper thinking about how to accommodate itself to new realities, which is what we’ve always done, after a few fits and starts. It takes a couple of hundred years, usually, but it will have to move faster than that now…

“For all of us, you never know what lies ahead, and you have to continue to live life, and be hopeful for the future. You want your students to leave your classroom in hope, and not in discouragement or despair. I have so much hope in them for the future. The church and the world need people like this. I think it’s so exciting. I see it in the younger generation, such great hope.”

For more stories from Catholic universities that express this hope about the upcoming generation of Catholic students, visit our ‘Campus Chronicles‘ series on the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity

April 2, 2013

Nate Tisa of Georgetown University

Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.

The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :

“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.

“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”

Anthony Alfano of DePaul University

Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:

“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”

At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame.  As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization.  There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…

“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia

Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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