Students and alumni of The Catholic University of America protested a campus lecture by anti-abortion speaker who has made repeated anti-LGBTQ and racist comments and participated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Abby Johnson, a much-criticized anti-abortion activist, was scheduled to speak via Zoom this week, hosted by D.C. campus’ student group Cardinals for Life. A petition launched by students quickly gained more than 2,200 signatures. In addition, several campus organizations, as well as alumni all released statements condemning the event featuring Johnson.
CUAllies, the university’s unrecognized group for LGBTQ students, issued a statement about Johnson noting that the speaker’s social media channels “have many posts containing homophobic, transphobic, and racist posts.” The group continued:
“In her statement today and throughout her social media page, Abby Johnson has made several comments directed at the Queer community on Catholic’s campus as well as in general (including hate directed at transgender individuals). We will not go into detail on her statement, but she mocked the normalization of pronouns and pride flags.
“As you are all aware, CUAllies is not and has never been a recognized organization at Catholic University. . .While we are hopeful for change in the future, today CUAllies is reminded by the extended invitation of Abby Johnson that the university has a long way to go before we reach total equality, support, and understanding of all its minority students.”
The National Catholic Reporter described some of Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ, racist, and controversial pandemic comments, as well as her participation in the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol:
“In an August 2020 video she uploaded to YouTube, Johnson, who is white, said police would be ‘smart’ to racially profile her adopted biracial son because, ‘statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.’
“In the video, Johnson also repeated racist stereotypes about Black fathers’ parenting and sexual habits. . .
“Johnson’s Twitter is also filled with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including a Sept. 30, 2020, tweet where she remarked, ‘Maybe don’t talk about Jesus while waving your gay flag’ and a Feb. 5 post where she commented with vomit emojis on a picture of a group of people, some of whom appear to be transgender.”
NCR reported on other responses from students and alumni. The Black Student Alliance wrote in a statement, “Through her blatant racism, sexism and homophobia, Abby Johnson continues to contribute to insensitive rhetoric, amplifying hate speech disguised as Catholic teachings.”
Via the Black at Catholic U Instagram page, alumni of color and white allies released a statement that read, in part:
“The University administration continues to prioritize anti-abortion activism at the expense of students’ wellbeing and in contradiction to Pope Francis’ exhortation that ‘equally sacred’ are the lives of many other marginalized communities. Abby Johnson’s racism, homophobic, and conspiratorial views should not be tolerated by a community which proclaims a Catholic, pro-life identity.”
Cardinals for Life cancelled their event with Johnson in a win for pro-LGBTQ, anti-racist students. But the campus’ College Republicans chapter hosted the event instead. However, Catholic University’s student government combined with affinity groups for students of color co-sponsored an alternative event about their experiences on campus.
When I was a student at Catholic University, I led student protests against Abby Johnson speaking at the time. This incident feels all too similar, and it is deeply unfortunate that a decade later, the University administration has not evolved. Indeed, the administration has not eve given official recognition to CUAllies, a group whose mission is to support LGBTQ students.
Differences in the context of dialogue should be welcomed in Catholic higher education. But, events with speakers like Abby Johnson, who abandon civil discourse for coarse abuse, and who stand by comments which bully LGBTQ people and communities of color, make a campus a more hostile space for marginalized groups. Every student deserves to feel safe and welcome on their campus. That should always be the priority for Catholic University’s administration.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 10, 2021