An LGBTQ alumnus has petitioned his Catholic alma mater to publicly support a recent U.S. Supreme Court victory shielding LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination.
According to the Washington Blade, Nickolas R. Atlas, Jr., a gay alumnus who also held administrative positions at The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, D.C., petitioned university president John Garvey to publicly support the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that bars workplace discrimination under Title VII on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Atlas, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from CUA emailed the petition to Garvey with 105 signatures from across the country.
The petition identified a glaring inconsistency because of the university’s public support of another U.S. Supreme Court cases adjudicated earlier this summer. The university publicly praised the high court’s determination to safeguard the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Obama immigration program, which has shielded over 700,000 undocumented immigrant children from deportation.
In contrast, the petition notes that CUA “remained silent” on the Court’s landmark decision for the LGBTQ community, holding that LGBTQ workers are protected from employment discrimination under existing federal law.
The petition also noted the university’s hostile history on LGBTQ issues:
“‘CUA has a long history of not supporting the LGBTQ+ community, which includes students, staff and faculty,” the petition says. ‘The choice to not comment on this landmark ruling is yet another example of the lack of support,’ it says.”
In a letter to Garvey accompanying the petition, Atlas also commented on the president’s rejection of an LGBTQ+ university student group:
“‘Several years ago, Georgetown University revised its policy on LGBTQ+ students in favor of providing them protection and equal rights after several violent incidents took place on campus,” Atlas states in his letter. ‘At the same time this happened, you still refused to allow CUA a formally recognized LGBTQ+ student group despite the possibility of a similar situation happening at CUA,’ the letter says.”
A university spokesperson commented to The Washington Blade that a response to Atlas’s petition was being developed, however, as yet, nothing has appeared.
Atlas also sent copies of his letter and petition to Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. In this leadership role, Archbishop Gregory also functions as the Chancellor of The Catholic University of America.
As reported by the Washington Blade, it’s unclear if Archbishop Gregory, who has taken steps to support LGBTQ Catholics and their families, will encourage Garvey to respond affirmatively to Atlas’s petition in light of his concerns on how the university has historically treated its LGBTQ students.
Atlas also underscored Pope Francis’s supportive stance on the LGBTQ community, and how the Pope’s moral leadership should guide the university in responding to the petition:
“‘As a pontifical university, CUA should pay close attention to what our Holy Father says about the LGBTQ+ community,’ Atlas says in his letter to Garvey. ‘I truly doubt Pope Francis would prevent university students from formally organizing a student group and would voice his support for faculty and staff in the sexual minority.’”
Atlas’s concluding reflections highlight the fundamental element that all LGBTQ Catholics desire, one that should resonate with all Catholics on their spiritual journey: knowing they are loved by God:
“‘I cannot speak for all those who are in the CUA sexual minority community, but we are not asking CUA to voice its support for gay marriage or anything of the like,’ the letter continues. ‘All we want is to know that we belong, we are loved, and we are supported for being a child of God at The Catholic University of America,’ Atlas states in the letter.’”
Atlas has taken a courageous step towards creating a more inclusive and loving environment for LGBTQ students at his Catholic alma mater. President Garvey should follow suit and publicly affirm the recent U.S. Supreme Court landmark victory protecting LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination–a decision which is in line with Catholic teaching against discrimination. To do so would illustrate a powerful institutional step forward, helping to heal the university’s contentious history with its LGBTQ student population, as well as provide next steps for even greater inclusion, equality, and harmony for the university’s LGBTQ Catholic community.
For other Catholic responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Title VII decision, click here.
–Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, July 27, 2020