CATHOLIC HISTORY: Fairfield University Debates Existence of Lesbian/Gay Student Group

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Jesuit school debates coalition of homosexuals

Like many U.S. Jesuit colleges, and indeed many U.S. Catholic colleges, Fairfield University, Connecticut, today has a strong support system in place for LGBTQ+ students and staff.  There’s an undergraduate student organization, Fairfield Alliance, a whole panoply of gender inclusive resources for gender and sexual minorities, a Safe Space Program and an Ally Network, a Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Commons area, and an inclusive campus ministry.   Fairfield students have participated in the annual IgnatianQ conference, a gathering of LGBTQ students from Jesuit colleges and universities across the U.S.

So, it’s instructive to remember that a wonderfully supportive environment like this didn’t grow out of nowhere.  It came about because of courageous pioneers. On April 27, 1989, The Long Island Catholic, a diocesan newspaper, carried an Associated Press news story with the headline “Jesuit school debates coalition of homosexuals.”  The story began:

“A new organization for gay and lesbian students at Fairfield University has stirred at the Jesuit school and received the cautious blessing of some.

“The so-called Gay-Lesbian-Straight Coalition was formed about a month ago to provide support for homosexuals and to give students at the Catholic university a weekly forum to speak about homosexual and heterosexual issues.

“One of the group’s organizers, senior Peter Bolger, described the group as ‘a coalition for a better humanity.’  He described the campus community ‘rather. . . closed and homophobic.’ “

Perhaps as a sign of how controversial the formation of this group was at the time, a university spokesperson declined to comment on it.  A faculty member at the time, however, did offer some comments:

“The Rev. Vincent Burns, professor of ethics and morality at the university, said that if the organization was being formed along the line of  ‘protecting or promoting civil rights,’ it would have a place at the university.

“But he said that if it was formed to promote the idea that homosexual activity is ‘good and normal. . . I would be opposed to that.  It’s contrary to the Church’s long tradition.’ “

Among student reaction that was reported, the issues of funding, Catholic identity, and diversity were key:

” ‘If they want to form a group, that’s their own business,’ said freshman Rob Stevenson. ‘I don’t think there could be that may here. They do need a support group. . . but I don’t think they should be getting university funding at all. ‘

‘Mr. Stevenson said funding should be for campus organizations for students with similar interests, not those with similar sexual preferences.

” ‘It is a Catholic school,’said sophomore Margaret Smith, who added that she had mixed feelings about the group, ‘but I feel they should have a right to get together and talk.’

“She and several other students said they thought the group should do its own fund raising.

“Junior Diane Anderson said she thought the group was an ‘excellent’ idea.

” ‘It’s part of a liberal education to learn about different kinds of views,’ she said.

” ‘It’s fabulous,’ said Jaime Fuertes a graduate student, who said the group would bring diversity to the campus.”

It is amazing to see how far Catholic colleges, faculty, and students have come in the past two decades.   For one thing, most Catholic colleges, except the most conservative ones, do not view LGBTQ students primarily in terms of sexual activity.  Many Catholic schools see LGBTQ students now as a unique population with gifts and perspectives to offer the campus, and with some particular needs which campuses are willing to provide for.

The first two students quoted in the excerpt above seem to be reluctantly supportive, and only in a limited way.  That wouldn’t be the case these days.  Catholic college students and many administrations are now more forthright in their support of LGBTQ students, often using Catholic principles to defend their positions.

Catholic colleges and universities are in the forefront of showing how the wider church can treat its LGBTQ members justly and equally.  We’ve come a long way!

To learn more about the many ways Catholic colleges are paving the way, check out our “Campus Chronicles” category of blog posts.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 27, 2018


1 reply
  1. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    Congratulations and sincere gratitude – overdue in many cases – to students and faculty who are willing to educate those who need and want to know the truth about life. For too many years silence and/or outright condemnation contributed to the lack of knowledge needed by parents, including educators, to even recognize the legitimacy of LGBTQ children as they are. It also contributed to vicious torment from their contemporaries – I cite Matthew Shepherd’s excruciating death as only one example. God bless and protect each and every soul created in His image and likeness.


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