LGBT Students Make Gains at U.S. Catholic Colleges
The relationship between religion and homosexuality has always been a contentious one, but nowhere is the debate more active than on college campuses. Catholic-affiliated universities across America are forced to deal with traditional church doctrine while at the same time must support a modern and progressive student body.
One student group success story recently occurred at a small Catholic-affiliated college in San Antonio. School administrators at Our Lady of the Lake University approved a change to its student handbook that includes protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Amanda Beschonet, former president of the OLLU Alliance, a gay-straight group on campus, said the process took nearly a year but was well worth the wait.
In January 2012, the group decided to take a look at whether they were protected in the school’s policies and noticed that sexual orientation, gender identity and expression were missing.
"A lot of the decisions were made behind closed doors," Beschonet said. "So we weren’t able to have a lot of conversations with the people who were doing the voting."
Jack Hank, the vice president of student life, was in charge of any programs in addition to the student handbook. "We had to do a little bit of educating," Beschonet explained. "He wasn’t really sure of the difference between gender and gender identity."
The university didn’t "understand what a big deal it is," she added. The feedback from students has been generally supportive, although minimal. Since the university is private, there’s been no big reveal on campus regarding the policy change.
Thanks to press from TexasEquality and Texas Public Radio, nearby colleges have reached out to OLLU Alliance for advice on how to get their own policies changed, Beschonet added.
Boston College Incident Shows Progress & Problems
Still, not all college campuses are making strides. Despite its reputation as one of the more supportive campuses for LGBT students in America, Boston College recently suffered a major setback. Despite its name, BC is a Jesuit school that is considered among the elite schools of higher learning in a city teeming with them.
Over Martin Luther King weekend, the LGBT Center at BC’s Law School was the target of vandalism that included homophobic graffiti covering the walls. The administration has been strikingly supportive of the victims, with the incident being actively investigated. As of this writing, no one has been apprehended.
Despite this recent event, the school is lucky to be ungoverned by the Catholic Church directly. The Jesuits traditionally do not report to the local bishop but rather to their own officers in Rome. Other schools, such as the Catholic University of America, report directly to the archdiocese. As McGargh explained,
"There is no one in the chain of command in the Catholic Church who can have anything to say about what happens at Boston College," according to John McGargh, BC assistant professor of theology at the school.
The president and Board of Trustees, however, are priests or active members of the laity. In addition, devout Catholic alumni and Boston Archbishop Cardinal O’Malley influence BC’s interpretation of doctrine. This has resulted in controversies such as the decision not to renew the teaching contract last year of Father John Shea, who has argued for the ordination of women.
Contradictions at Boston College
On the one hand, the school supports a Gay Leadership Council, in direct defiance of the Church’s position on all matters gay. There is also an association for LGBT faculty, staff and administrators, who have been invited to contribute to discussions about diversity at the school.
On the other hand, there is a reluctance to allow a social group for gays and lesbians, McGargh admitted. For many years, there was hesitation to allow a dance for LGBT students. When asked why, McGrath said it was because dances are perceived to be foreplay for sexual activity.
A cursory Google search, however, reveals several dances. Neighbors of the campus would be surprised to hear dance parties are discouraged, since, as local news site reported, forced college representatives to apologize for a raucous college-sponsored party that caused dozens of calls to the police.
McGargh pointed out that an LGBT dance has been held off-campus for the past few years.
Despite such contradictions, the campus has certainly come a long way since the 1980s, when students received death threats from other students for coming out. "The fact of the matter is we have a very concerned campus, now," McGargh argued. He praised the support offered by counselors, student affairs and campus police about the vandalism incident.