Manhattan College, a Catholic campus in New York City, established its first LGBTQ support group in the early 1980’s. Since then, the organization has grown and flourished as its members continue to raise awareness and create a safe space for LGBTQ students on campus. The school is owned by the Christian Brothers, and the outreach to LGBTQ students is very much grounded in the spirit of the Brothers’ founder: John Baptist de La Salle.
An editorial in The Quadrangle, the school’s student newspaper, emphasized the school’s three-decade commitment to LGBTQ students by examining the five major LaSallian values:
“(1) Respect for all people. (2) Quality Education. (3) Inclusive Community. (4) Concern for the Poor and Social Justice. (5) Faith in the Presence of God.”
These five values, which make up the five points of the LaSallian star, a symbol of the community, drive home acceptance of all people at Manhattan College, including LGBTQ students. In the spirit of John Baptist de La Salle, the students are committed to upholding the dignity of queer-identifying persons, despite Catholic teaching that has notoriously labeled “homosexual tendencies” as “intrinsically disordered.”
The current president of the school’s LGBTQ club is Roi Mase, a junior who is double-majoring in government and international studies and openly identifies as “a proud, out, and loud Gay Rights activist and feminist!”
Professor Margaret Groarke, a political science scholar, became the club’s faculty advisor this past year. Having previously worked with “Act Up” in the 1990’s during the AIDS crisis, Groarke focuses on the importance of supporting LGBTQ students in the Catholic context. She said:
“There’s an inherent contradiction in these teachings, and I’m afraid it leads to some awful things — people who were taught that gay sex is sinful, felt empowered to crucify Matthew Shepard in Laramie in 1998. I think this is an area where the church needs to think harder about what we are called to do as a people of God.”
The focus of the club is not only to support LGBTQ students at Manhattan College, but also to create educational opportunities for staff, faculty, and students who desire to learn more about issues pertaining to the community. Mase discussed the continued need for the club on campus:
“I think having a LGBTQ club on campus is not only important for a Catholic college, but essential for the social health of a modern student body. One of the main principles in the Gay Liberation movement of the 1960s was to be visible; to show the general public that we are people just like everyone else. I think that same mentality can apply to our group at Manhattan College– to show our student body that we are like everyone else– Jaspers [the school’s mascot].”
Manhattan College is not the only Catholic university that is committed to justice for LGBTQ students. I have attended two Jesuit universities, and at both schools, finding a support group for LGBTQ students was easier than registering for classes. Friends of mine who have also attended Jesuit universities have said that on-campus LGBTQ support groups were normal at their schools.
It is critically important for Catholic universities to openly support LGBTQ students in the name of inclusion. Undergraduate students, in particular, are at a crucial point in social development and are in need of supportive and life-giving communities. Catholic universities that serve as homes for LGBTQ students ought to truly feel like homes by creating spaces that foster respect and preferential option for marginalized communities.
Although Catholic universities have more work to do in this area, schools like Manhattan College offer an example of how we can continue to support LGBTQ students in ways that are in line with values of Catholic higher education.
To view New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities, click here.
–Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, January 28, 2018