Beyond Pope Francis: Georgetown U. Welcoming Trans Students

Pope Francis’ interview with America Magazine has captured Catholic, and global, attention since last Thursday, and yet one columnist has said “Forget the Pope, Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.” Bondings 2.0 recently commended Catholic campuses for welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as a new academic year begins.  Now the news is even better: Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has begin actively welcoming transgender students, as well.
Slate.com columnist Mark Joseph Stern is a graduate of Georgetown , thus it serves as his reference point for Catholic higher education. Sterns opens by writing:
“It’s impossible to deny the importance of the pope’s words, especially on the issue of gay rights. But it’s also easy to overpraise them. His newfound tolerance didn’t develop in a vacuum, and it’s probably not shared by many in the upper echelons of the Vatican hierarchy. Rather, Pope Francis’ remarks seem more or less ripped from the playbook of certain Catholic universities in the United States—and, more specifically, the Jesuits who run them.”
Sterns recounts the emergence of an LGBT-positive attitude at the school after a series of neighborhood and campus hate crimes, and general homophobic culture, led students to organize in 2007. Students petitioned the University to act and, with the aid of Jesuits who advocated for the students, the administration opened an LGBT resource center that was the first of its kind on Catholic campuses. Today, Georgetown is an accepting campus and you can read below on Bondings 2.0’s past coverage of the campus’ progress, with Sterns concluding:
“On the whole, however, the university has managed a comfortable equilibrium between social progressivism and Catholic devotion, thanks in large part to its very Jesuit tradition of questioning, discussing, and, eventually, reforming.

“Was Pope Francis influenced by the kind of Catholic tolerance that developed at colleges like Georgetown? No one can say for sure—but it seems likely. In fact, given that Francis is a Jesuit himself, the most surprising facet of his ‘creeping tolerance’  is that it took so long to develop. For many prominent and pious Catholics, gay acceptance is virtually a nonissue. It’s about time the Vatican caught up.”

Last week, this blog highlighted the positive steps Catholic campuses are making for their LGBT students in the coming academic year. Georgetown University already provides professional staff, support groups, and the LGBTQ Resource Center, but is making headlines this year for actively welcoming transgender students. A lengthy piece in The Guide, a weekly campus magazine, examines the issue through the lens of two students:
“This year, for the first time in recent memory, Georgetown has two openly transgender students — [Lexi] Dever and Celeste Chisholm (COL ’15) — and one gender non-conforming student, who could not be reached for this article. And last week, GU Pride named Chisholm its first ever trans* representative.

“ ‘We are definitely on the right track,’ Chisholm said of Georgetown’s readiness to accept trans* students. ‘At their very best, the people here will understand, and at the very least, people are respectful enough to know when not to say anything.’

“But despite these gains, Chisholm and Dever feel the near-invisibility of trans* students on campus acutely. ‘People aren’t as educated about it as they could be because they just don’t know anyone who is transgender,’ Dever said.”
The article provides an in-depth look at the two students’ stories about being transgender and transitioning, which you can read here. As for the University, Dever and Chisholm applaud Georgetown for accepting different gender identities and admit wherever students are coming out as transgender and transitioning is difficult. Shiva Subbaraman, who heads up the LGBTQ Resource Center, says there has been tremendous progress on transgender issues in her five years on campus.
As it has previously done, Georgteown University is now listening to students and leading the way on issues of sexual and gender diversity. A proposed student support group for transgender and questioning students is planned, as are educational programs. More questionable are the logistical issues, like housing and healthcare, that are often a flashpoints:
“Chisholm acknowledges that Georgetown’s position as a Catholic university means it will be difficult to push for the kinds of policies that have been implemented at other schools — The George Washington University’s gender-neutral housing or American University health insurance’s coverage of transition surgery, for example. But she aims to push back.
“ ‘As a private, Catholic university, I know that Georgetown can’t do anything we want…But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight as hard as I can for these things. Being Catholic doesn’t hold us back from being the people that we’re meant to be, from being the understanding Hoyas that we are, being the respectable and respectful community that we are.’ “
What do you think: Are the Church’s colleges and universities the future of Catholicism on LGBT issues? Are American Catholics ahead of the pope in terms of LGBT issues? What does Georgetown University’s welcome mean for transgender issues in the Church overall? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
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7 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    I’m rather surprised that nobody has responded to this thread. I happen to be a graduate of Holy Cross College — a Jesuit institution — and Yale University. I’m also a participant in the Holy Cross College GLBTQ Alumni Association, which will be hosting a special seminar program for our returning Holy Cross GLBTQ Alumni during Homecoming Weekend in October. Needless to say, there are a whole lot of us! The Jesuits — from Pope Francis himself, and down through the rest of the hierarchy — seem to appreciate the integrity and the faithfulness to the Church of GLBTQ Catholics in a way that few others have demonstrated. I think it’s no accident that the amazing Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest and bishop, prior even to his elevation to the Papacy. The Holy Spirit is clearly overlighting him. Miracles of Divine Grace do occur in this troubled world. May they flourish beyond our wildest hopes and imaginings.

    Reply

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