While walking across Copley Lawn this week, one of us overheard a less-than-enlightened comment: “Georgetown students are so preppy. It’s like a Vineyard Vines catalog around here, but with more books and less sailing.”

Although it is true that well-matched pastels and boat shoes are definitely prominent in Georgetown classrooms, the population here is far more diverse.

Whenever we talk about large groups of people — the Georgetown student body, for example — it is easy to paint with a broad brush. But these generalizations rarely match up to reality, and they alienate people in the process.

This is especially true of the Catholic Church’s approach to “homosexual persons,” a simplification that not only distances the church’s teaching from the reality of human sexuality but also conflicts with its stated mandate to avoid discrimination against sexual minorities.

It is often easy to group sexual orientations together, ignoring the nuances of individual experience and orientation. People often describe others as being “gay” or “straight” without regard for gender, sex or whatever other individual variables may contribute to each person’s experience.

Official church doctrine demonstrates this flaw. The catechism, for instance, states: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.” Earlier, it says, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

To refer only to “homosexual persons” is a crucial error. Surely, there are individuals whose sexual orientation can be described as exclusively homosexual. But what about others? What about those with more complex sexual orientations?
Failing to recognize the nuances of human sexuality is simply inaccurate. But this failure also allows for the type of group-thinking and binary opposition on which discrimination and hate can be based. It’s easy to discriminate against a group or a “gay” or a “homosexual person” when the language assumes a sort of binary opposition between “straight” people and the other “homosexual persons.” It’s much harder to discriminate against an individual human who simply has a unique sexual orientation.

The same problem exists at Georgetown, where there is a long history of treating sexual minorities as a monolith. From the Gay Rights Coalition of Georgetown Law Center v. Georgetown University Supreme Court case to the lack of university recognition of hate crimes against queer students to the use of “Safe Zones” and checkboxes, Georgetown either actively discriminates against sexual minorities or handles discrimination with one-size-fits-all panaceas.

Discrimination is a fact of campus life: According to the 2009 Student Commission for Unity Final Report, 57.8 percent of LGBTQ students strongly agree that they face discrimination or alienation at Georgetown. Even with the existence of the LGBTQ Resource Center, Georgetown students who identify as being a sexual minority don’t feel entirely welcome.

Georgetown, as well as the Catholic Church that animates its mission and operation, can disrupt the straight-gay binary that exists on campus and in Catholic communities across the world. We can strike a new path and be a leader among Catholic and Jesuit institutions of higher education. Instead of treating those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning as a coherent, monolithic group, the university must look into the whole person. The LGBTQ Resource Center is a start.

The same goes for the church. Although it’s imperative to recognize humans’ shared traits and experiences, any account of human life — and it is the church’s mission, after all, to provide such an account — that lacks the requisite attention to nuance and individuality will be flawed from the beginning.

Neither Georgetown nor the church can achieve its goals without modifying its language. Fortunately, our words, like our fashion choices, are within our control.

Pat Gavin and Alex Honjiyo are seniors in the College and School of Foreign Service, respectively. AGGIORNAMENTO appears every other Tuesday.

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