Gays, Lesbians Asking How They Fit In At University

Gay CoupleSAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – Martin Trevino is openly gay. He knows that is unacceptable to many of his fellow students at Our Lady of the Lake University, a private Catholic school on the West Side.
In spite of that — or perhaps because of it — Trevino wants to create a university-sanctioned gay/straight alliance to educate students and faculty about gay issues and to give gays and lesbians a voice on campus. The issue has sparked discussion about whether universities with Catholic moorings should support gay groups, given that the church teaches homosexual sex is wrong.
“It’s part of our education to be able to work with a diverse population,” said Trevino, a 42-year-old social work student. “If it is acceptable to take our money, it should be acceptable to be who we are.”
Howard Benoist, executive vice president for OLLU, said he would work with Trevino on the approval process, which includes drawing up a charter that must conform to the university’s Catholic mission.
“The campus policy is no discrimination and support for everybody,” Benoist said. “We make a distinction between the lifestyle and the student. We want to be supportive of the students no matter what their views.”
The request comes at a time when Catholic universities around the nation are struggling with the clash between modern culture and religious values. About 50 Catholic institutions have student organizations for some combination of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex (having both sexual organs) students. Locally, St. Mary’s University and the University of the Incarnate Word are not among those.
Other colleges have drawn fire for hosting “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that includes a depiction of a sexual encounter between a young girl and a woman.
“This is a real issue and our church is grappling with it,” said Michael Galligan-Stierle, vice president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. “There are 100 opinions today about what it means to be Catholic. Young adults should be talking these things through and figuring out where their values are.”
Quietly out
In Professor Cynthia Medina’s office at the Worden School of Social Service, an OLLU handbook sits on her shelf, a bright yellow Post-it Note stuck to the section outlining goals for general education. Learn to respect others, quash discrimination, it says. She whips it out when colleagues criticize her efforts to raise awareness of gay issues.
“I really take that seriously,” she said of the handbook’s goals.
Medina has helped organize on-campus events to discuss gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex issues, and in August she put on a training session for student mentors. In her classes, she tackles minority relations and has compiled a resource manual on those issues.
It’s awkward for students to confront their feelings about homosexuality, Medina said, but they leave her class and training sessions with more compassion for gays and lesbians.
She thinks the campus is ripe for a gay/straight alliance.
“I think the students are interested and the university is ready,” Medina said.
Jane Grovijahn, chairwoman of the religious studies department, agreed.
“People here are quietly out,” Grovijahn said. “There is no great visibility. We are at exactly the right place to begin looking at these issues.”
Both professors expect some resistance from faculty and students.
Aaron Miller, a 26-year-old English major, opposes the idea of a gay/straight alliance.
“Students may express individual views in contrast to Church teaching,” Miller said. “But they may not formally organize against (the Church’s) instruction.”
If other universities’ experience holds true, administrators also will hear from alumni, donors and outside groups complaining that Catholicism has gone soft.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a Manassas, Va.-based nonprofit that pushes for what it deems a stronger Catholic identity at colleges, published a report in 2003 claiming Catholic universities were leading students astray.
The report cites a survey done by the Higher Education Research Institute at 38 Catholic colleges showing graduating seniors predominantly favor abortion rights and homosexual marriage and only occasionally pray or attend religious services.
The report quoted David House, president of St. Joseph’s College of Maine, as saying: “To present Church teaching at a Catholic college as neutral or as one of many offerings in the cafeteria of belief systems is more than just weak. It’s wrong.”
The society also has successfully fought productions of “The Vagina Monologues” on numerous Catholic campuses. This year, University of Notre Dame’s president required the campus’ Queer Film Festival to change its name and banned fundraising for a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.”
“There are organizations that launch campaigns against universities they think are not Catholic enough,” said Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman for DePaul University in Chicago.
In January, DePaul became the first Catholic school in the country to offer a minor in queer studies.
“It is a bold move; you are going to put yourself up for criticism,” Mattson said of DePaul’s decision. “But we have to be true to our mission and beliefs, and we believe in social justice and equality. Gay people deserve to be treated like other people.”
from Express-News

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