A Catholic university has supported the lesbian theology professor who was targeted by a local resident calling for the professor’s firing. The incident has led to a wider discussion about justice and inclusion in the institutional church.
As reported by KARE, Dr. Kelly Wilson, a biblical scholar and professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, was the victim of a homophobic demonstration, in which a man came to the university campus calling for the professor’s employment termination. The man also distributed fliers with photos of Wilson’s same-gender partner and their children.
The university community responded promptly to this episode. Campus security contacted Wilson offering assistance, and she also received an outpouring of support from students, faculty members, and a phone call from the dean.
The University of St. Thomas also issued an official press release, denouncing the man’s actions:
“This man has a history of criticizing St. Thomas employees…When we found out about this latest incident, we reached out to offer our full support to Dr. Wilson. We also sent a university-wide communication rejecting this man’s hateful message and reaffirming our commitment to an inclusive environment for our LGBTQA+ community members. This is consistent with Catholic teaching, which calls on us to love and care for every person. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.'”
In a KARE interview, Wilson said she was not phased by the homophobic viewpoint. She was surprised, however, that her children had been brought into the equation:
“‘This isn’t new to me that I would get some pushback from some people I just never know or knew it would include a picture of my kids as evidence of why I should be fired.'”
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the theology professor felt called to take action by buttressing the structures and ‘systems [the man was] trying to break down.’
Dr. Wilson launched a fundraising initiative for Dignity/Twin Cities, a local chapter of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBTQ Catholics. The theology professor quickly raised several thousand dollars.
At the suggestion of a colleague, Wilson invited Fr. James Martin, SJ, the well-known author and advocate for LGBTQ Catholics, to speak to the University of St. Thomas community about equality, justice, and inclusion for LGBTQ persons within the Catholic Church. Rooting his commentary in Catholic Social Teaching, Father Martin underscored:
“‘The Catholic Church teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with respect[,] compassion and sensitivity. . .’
“‘The idea people would be protesting and as I understand passing out pictures of her children is, let’s use a word that needs to be in the discussion, which is cruel. And that is certainly something not part of Catholic teaching, not part of the Christian world and not what Jesus asked us to do.
“‘Sometimes I like to say that these people are so Catholic, these protestors, that they forget about being Christian.’”
Wilson reflected on her own identity as a lesbian Catholic:
“‘You don’t have pick being gay or Catholic, it’s not either or moments or decisions what it is I believe I am being my authentic self, I believe that is what my church asks me to do what the scriptures ask me to do and what God expects of me, and this is my home is the Catholic Church.’”
Wilson’s decision to respond with grace to the homophobia perpetrated against her and her family is a robust example of educational leadership, courage, and resilience.
Moreover, the University of St. Thomas’s rapid response to the incident and its reaffirmation of LGBTQ inclusion grounded in Catholic Social Teaching represents a powerful stance against bigotry. Defending, as well as protecting an employee targeted because of her sexuality and marital status unequivocally sends a message to the entire university community and beyond: hatred has no place in a Catholic educational environment.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2020