October is Coming Out Month at Georgetown University. In addition to the full schedule of activities, the campus also engaged in a conversation about faith and sexuality in the campus newspaper, The Hoya.
GU PRIDE, the undergraduate LGBTQA organization, and the LGBTQ Resource Center have hosted a series of social and educational events, according to Vox Populi, a campus blog. These include a panel discussion on gay undocumented workers, the inaugural question and answer forum with university President John J. DeGioia on campus LGBT matters, and a day-long outdoor event on National Coming Out Day.
Some of the activities were designed to celebrate the fifth year of Georgetown’s LGBTQ Resource Center. Created as a response to student campaign entitled “Out for Change” that began in 2007, this office provides a safe space on campus, runs programming around relevant topics, and is beginning to aid other Catholic colleges and universities in establishing similar programs.
The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, reports that many credit the LGBTQ Resource Center with transforming the campus’ conversation on sexual orientation and identity. The newspaper reports:
“’The campus climate for the LGBTQ community was far different five years ago than it is today,’ Scott Chessare (SFS’10), former co-president of GU Pride and one of the leaders of the rally in Red Square that launched the campaign in 2007, said. ‘It was fractured, divided, not really united. We thought there was a general lack of institutional support’…
“‘In [that] dark hour, there was a seed of opportunity to respond to what happened,’ Chessare said. ‘I think that is something we saw five years ago [with] DeGioia’s courageous decision to commit to establishing the LGBTQ center, not in spite of our Catholic and Jesuit identity, but because of it.’”
Chessare’s comments add to a conversation in the opinion pages of The Hoya about Catholicism and sexuality. One column featured junior Nate Tisa writing on his experiences being Catholic and gay, and positively harmonizing these two identities. Tisa writes:
“Every Catholic outside the heterosexual binary is faced with a choice: Hide your identity and experience the sacraments in the knowledge that you do so with a divided soul or live as you were created but find yourself excised from many church ministries and the sacrament of marriage…
“…it is the status quo element in the Church hierarchy that has lost its faith in the living God, not the majority of lapsed Catholics. Traditionalists are so confident in their moral authority that they fail to acknowledge the hand of God working social change through those on the margins of society.
“This world and this university need the Church, now and a hundred years from now. Society is changing, and God is in that change — do not reject it.”
Senior Julia Maddera responded to a student columnist defending the hierarchy’s actions in The Hoya with her experiences as an LGBT Catholic driven away from the Church. She writes:
“While the Catholic bishops may claim to be aware of the alienation that LGBT Catholics suffer, they do little to stem it and often actively participate in it. Archbishop John Myers of Newark recently urged practitioners who support same-sex marriage to refrain from receiving the Eucharist…As the archbishop of my diocese, he was speaking to me.
“I will abstain from Communion, but not out of respect for Archbishop Myers’ words. I can no longer participate in a church whose actions and teachings on homosexuality introduce a moral inconsistency to the larger body of its doctrine…
“I admire my LGBT Catholic friends who continue to engage in dialogue with the Church. I live in hope that the Church will listen to them and set aside its ancient prejudices to become the truly welcoming community that Jesus envisioned…However, I cannot patiently wait for the hierarchy to rediscover its conscience.”
These student voices highlight the persistent tension found at Catholic colleges and universities between institutional religious identity and personal sexual identities. Yet, the progressive actions by Georgetown University in the last five years to positively engage prove that Catholic institutions can simultaneously be vibrantly Catholic and LGBT-affirming for the benefit of all students.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.
For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.