Schools in Ireland stood against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric last week by cancelling a number of talks by conservative Catholic U.S. speaker Jason Evert, whose website and talks promote negative views of LGBTQ people.
Originally scheduled to speak in Dublin and Waterford, all listings for the Ireland tour have been removed from Evert’s “Chastity Project” website, and a number of schools have confirmed with Irish media that their events with Evert had been cancelled following public backlash. Evert’s organization has described homosexuality as ‘objectively disordered,’ a term that the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses, but which a number of bishops from around the have called pastorally harmful in recent years.
In the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, education officials declined interviews from RTÉ. Instead, they pointed journalists to a previous statement that requested schools bring in guest speakers using “appropriate evidence-based methodologies.” A brief look at Evert’s writing makes clear that such methodologies are scarce. Fr. Liam Power, the diocesan communications director, also offered no comment about Evert’s program.
Cancellations of Evert’s talks were met with praise by pro-LGBTQ groups. Students of University College Dublin’s UCD LGBTQ+ thanked supporters on Twitter who “spread awareness and help[ed] make this happen,” noting that “Hate is not welcome on our campus.” Evert had been initially scheduled as part of a weekend-long student retreat. In their initial call for support, the society stated:
“UCD is celebrated for being a diverse and inclusive campus where all can feel safe to be themselves. By inviting Mr. Evert and his ideologies into campus, the organizers, and by extension UCD, are putting the safety of UCD’s LGBTQ+ community at risk. Mr. Evert’s words can have lasting and damaging effects on the mental wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students within the university.”
In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Ian Power, the CEO of youth mental health organization SpunOut, shared similar concerns about Evert’s potential for harm:
“For anybody, but particularly for somebody who is struggling with their identity, to be told that they are in some way disordered or wrong is extremely harmful to hear. This could have really serious consequences for the mental health of young people coming to terms with their sexuality—as you struggle with that, you’re so much more vulnerable to the things other people say, particularly for younger people.
“Untold damage could be done if something like this is allowed unfettered access to a young, captive audience…it’s not okay for somebody to address students with anything other than objective facts.”
Paula Fagan, CEO of LGBT Ireland, has called Evert’s remarks “hugely damaging and harmful to young people.” On notice that some of Evert’s scheduled talks would continue as planned, Fagan noted the numbers of young people who identify as ‘other than heterosexual,’ expressing that “young people need to be supported to understand that’s normal…The messages he’s preaching are saying that somehow that sexuality and LGBT is a disorder, and that’s just irresponsible—it’s not right.”
Beyond his claims of religiously justified condemnation, Evert has attempted to make a secular argument for his bigotry, writing in his book Pure Manhood that “The life expectancy of homosexual men is half that of heterosexual men. Furthermore, imagine what would happen if all people with same-sex attractions were placed in their own country. It would be empty in a century, because bodies of the same gender are not made to receive each other.”
If the schools which permit Evert to speak are not providing counter-messaging that informs young people of the gross misrepresentation in statements such as above, they are doing a great moral wrong to the students they claim to serve. To let Evert’s statements stand unchallenged means ignoring the historical and structural injustices done to the LGBTQ community, entertaining flippant thought experiments, and propping up pseudoscience to justify one’s own disdain for what is unfamiliar.
The cancellation of several of Evert’s speaking engagements should be celebrated, as should the student organizers who raised their initial concerns. We hope that the schools which do allow Evert to speak will look carefully at the damage done to their students and swiftly seek out resources to better educate their charges in the future.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, January 23, 2020