College classes are still a few weeks away, but the Princeton Review’s annual rankings of Most- and Least-LGBT friendly campuses are already published. No Catholic colleges were ranked among the top twenty LGBTQ-Friendly Schools, but two were among the top LGBTQ-Unfriendly Schools: the University of Dallas (UD) and The Catholic University of America (CUA) at #15 and #20, respectively.
But, as I have written in past years (2013 and 2014), rankings like the Princeton Review’s cannot capture the full story when it comes to Catholic higher education and LGBT issues. Getting the story right is important given that the church’s higher educational mission in the United States alone reaches around a million students at more than 220 colleges and universities. And, in fact, looking at some summer happenings on campuses may show that Catholic higher education in the United States may see its most LGBT-positive year yet.
For example, DePaul University in Chicago is not only the nation’s largest Catholic college but also one of its most LGBT-positive. It continued building on that strong record in recent months, sponsoring marchers in the city’s Pride parade for the second year in a row and joining Campus Ministry with LGBTQ Student Services to host a conversation on healthy sexual relationships last May.
In the area of trans* inclusion, more Catholic colleges are increasing their welcome for trans* students. Conversations about gender identity are springing up on campuses more frequently. For example, Loyola University New Orleans hosted an event with transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox last spring.
Trans* Catholic Nick Stevens wrote positively about attending Fontbonne University, St. Louis, during the years whwen he not only transitioned but entered the Catholic Church as well. He wrote for HRC Blog and for Time earlier this year about his experiences, including this observation:
“Admittedly, the Catholic Church isn’t historically known as the most welcoming place for the LGBT community. But I found many Catholics who continued to love me and walk beside me in my journey. . .Besides my family, my biggest supporters came from the community I formed during college. A Catholic university, Fontbonne allowed me to become a leader in an inclusive and diverse environment.
“As the student body president, I interacted with a lot of people on campus, which created a very difficult coming out process. I was afraid that many of those I befriended or worked with at Fontbonne would reject me. Luckily, that wasn’t the case at all. Even the president of the college accepted and welcomed my transition.”
Stevens also wrote about being transgender and Catholic for the New York Times, detailing further the affirmation he received from many church members including his traditional-leaning grandmother of whom he wrote:
“In her words and actions, she communicated to me the fundamental truths of our faith: that God made us to be who we are, and if we aren’t being true to ourselves, then we aren’t being true to God.”
Georgetown University was celebrated in 2013 for admitting two openly trans* students, among many other steps made toward equality. The Georgetown Voice, the student newspaper, recently ran an article featuring the school’s LGBT achievements, while also noting that there is still room for some improvement.
UD appeared at #10 in 2013, then disappeared from the list in 2014. Earlier this spring, a new graduate’s open letter asked administrators to apologize for a commencement speaker’s anti-gay tirade or simply admit LGBT students are unwelcome. The letter called the campus climate “homophobic and toxic,” saying further that “bigoted students are empowered.”
CUA has been an anti-LGBTQ regular, appearing in the Princeton Review’s rankings at #18 in 2013 and #12 in 2014. The administration repeatedly rejected a student LGBT group or any positive outreach through student affairs and campus ministry. A recent change in D.C.’s Human Rights Law may make CUA open to a lawsuit if the administration discriminates against an LGBT student group.
Catholic colleges like UD and CUA should look to the University of Notre Dame for help rather than waiting for legal challenges to force change. Notre Dame appeared at #5 and #9 on the Least-LGBTQ Friendly lists the past two years but was dropped this year. This shift is likely the result of the school’s pastoral plan for LGBTQ community members, “Beloved Friends and Allies” which, though imperfect, is a major step forward.
As another school year approaches, I repeat my now annual call for Princeton Review and other ranking systems to look closer at Catholic higher education. I wrote in a similar post last year:
“What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities…They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.”
Finally, the church’s educational mission is something of which we, as Catholics, can be deeply proud, but which also requires our constantly vigilant attention if we are to sustain it equitably. Every Catholic should consider how they might encourage and enable Catholic education, from primary schools to graduate programs, to open the doors wider and cherish more sincerely the contributions of LGBT students and educators.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry