CUAllies, the unofficial LGBTQ student organization at The Catholic University of America, continues its decade-long fight for university recognition after administrators once again denied the club official status this spring.
National Catholic Reporter explained that CUAllies has existed underground since 2009, its members meeting in coffee shops and other spaces not owned by the university. Because of the club’s unofficial status, it cannot receive any funding from the Washington, DC, university, nor can it advertise its events or logo on posters around campus.
The club has been seeking university recognition almost as long as it has existed. Ryan Fecteau, a former president of the club and the current Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, returned to campus this spring to participate in the latest rehashing of the battle. NCR reported:
“It was nine years to the day since he first convinced student leaders at Catholic University to vote in favor of his club’s right to exist. Fecteau, who identifies as gay, tried for years while he was a student to convince the university administration to make the club an official campus group.
“When Fecteau graduated, CUAllies was in the same position it had been when he arrived his freshman year. But when he returned to his alma mater more than 10 years later, it was déjà vu. He was back for a repeat vote by current student leaders, again fighting a small battle in the Catholic Church’s debate over gay rights.”
This spring, the student government voted 22-3 to approve the club, sending the vote to the Office of the University President. The same thing happened nine years ago. As in 2012, President John Garvey overturned the approving vote. The struggle continues, though, with some assistance from the now-famous alum:
“Fecteau now advises the club from afar. He said he recently offered a ‘dose of reality’ to the club leaders: He doesn’t think the university will ever recognize the club.
“‘I don’t think that will change unless there’s some legal action taken against the university,’ Fecteau said.”
NCR noted that the institutional pressures which forced CUAllies underground “are stronger at Catholic University than at most other Catholic four-year institutions in the United States.” The reasons for this are complicated:
“At Catholic University, ‘six U.S. cardinals sit alongside wealthy donors on the university’s board of trustees. Republican juggernauts like the Koch Brothers fill the university’s coffers, which may be part of the reason the school is often seen as more conservative than its peers.
“The other reason is that the school isn’t run by a religious order but instead is the only American university with a pontifical charter, tying it directly to the Vatican.”
Other Catholic universities have more actively inclusive environments for the LGBTQ community. NCR reported:
“Georgetown University, a Jesuit school a few miles from Catholic University, funds an LGBTQ resource center and multiple queer student organizations. Another Jesuit school, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, has a legal clinic for LGBTQ people. The queer club at Fordham University in New York won its own decade-long battle for recognition in 1990.”
While CUAllies has been disappointed by the university’s failure to recognize the club, the club continues to speak out and meet via Zoom amid the pandemic. The outgoing president of the club, Emily D’Antonio, asked, “What are they going to do, kick us off campus?”
CUAllies represents one of many struggles for inclusion at Catholic universities. The Catholic University of America has the potential to be a particularly significant benchmark for LGBTQ inclusion in the church because of the university’s status as the only pontifical university in the U.S., as well as its location in the nation’s capital. As the students and alumni of CUAllies continue the conversation, we must continue to hope and pray that the university administration of CUA and universities across the country will hear and respond positively to the needs of the LGBTQ communities on their campuses.
For Bondings 2.0’s full reporting on CUAllies and student efforts to get the organization recognized over the past decade, click here.
This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read other stories by clicking here.
—Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2021