NEWS ANALYSIS Tests of Tolerance: The History of GU’s LGBT Conflict Issues of Catholicism, Homosexuality Collide in Gonzalez’s Office By Derek Richmond and Laura Saldivar Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya As Georgetown’s seal shows, religion has always been an integral part of the university.

Georgetown has always prided itself on diversity within its student body. Similarly, the university has always celebrated its Catholic roots. Recently, however, the two issues of Catholic identity and discrimination based on sexual orientation have met with conflict in Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez’s office.

In February, Gonzalez officially denied a request made earlier this summer for the creation of a resource center dedicated to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students feel at home at Georgetown. The possiblity that the resource center may run counter to Catholic teachings and Georgetown’s Jesuit identity was the reason stated by the administration when it denied funding for the center.

However, the debate concerning the resource center is just the latest in a long line of issues related to homosexuality for the university.

In 1980, two student gay rights groups sued the university alleging that its policy of not granting official university recognition to homosexual groups was discriminatory. The groups claimed that such a policy violated both the D.C. Human Rights Act and the university’s self-proclaimed doctrine of toleration.

The case was settled out of court. The university avoided granting official recognition to the groups on the basis that such recognition would affirm practices that countered Georgetown’s Catholic identity. Instead, the university agreed to give tangible benefits to student gay rights groups. The agreement neither discriminated against homosexuals, nor did it force Georgetown to support counter-Catholic teachings.

Georgetown corresponded heavily with Congress in 1988 regarding campus opinion of the LGBT center and the D.C. Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act demanded that Georgetown make its facilities and services equally available without regard to sexual orientation, and that those “facilities and services” should include the tangible benefits that come with “university recognition.”

Such correspondence prompted requests from religious officials urging Georgetown to take the case before the Supreme Court. Such a decision, many believed, ran the risk of damaging Catholic higher education throughout the country by advocating values deviating from those of the Church. Georgetown opted not to go before the Supreme Court.

In 1992, Georgetown continued to feel pressure from the Catholic Church. In a letter received from a Vatican representative to a Bishop in Seattle citing the Georgetown case, the Church’s position was stated as follows:

“The university’s responsibilities towards homosexual persons, doctrinally and pastorally, should find their expression in courses in Catholic theology and in the ordinary pastoral ministry in the university. To seek to respond to these obligations by means of the `Gay and Lesbian’ groups is to create ambiguities on the intellectual level, as if the Church’s position in the matter were not clear.”

Ten years later, Georgetown is still torn between the student view and the church position.

Gonzalez said the LGBT issues, just as all issues, should be met in “ways that are effective, comprehensive and consistent without Catholic, Jesuit identity” which means improving all student programs to assist in meeting the needs of all students.

In June 2001, Gonzalez formed a committee composed of students and administrators, with the mission of “identifying areas of concern, and making short term and long term recommendations for moving the university forward on the support and care of” LGBT students. It was this committee that recommended gathering data on the need for, and feasibility of, a resource center.

“The two strongest [recommendations] were to make that committee permanent and to hire an administrator,” committee member and GUPride President Joe McFadden (COL ’02) said. Gonzalez agreed on March 14 to the second of these recommendations.

“One of the other recommendations in the report was that the administration start looking into a resource center. The recommendation wasn’t necessarily that they should do one; the recommendation was to look into it,” McFadden said. “Dr. Gonzalez told us early on in the year that he wasn’t going to be acting on a lot of the recommendations from that committee.”

Gonzalez said he enjoys dialogue with the LGBT students, and that it is a responsibility to have “serious and sustained discourse,” but that influence from the press has added to the complexity of open discussion.

“You can’t have a conversation with people constantly asking you what your response was to a particular comment,” Gonzalez said. “The most important thing that needs to occur in these meetings is open and honest conversation. That won’t happen with the press trying to manage the conversation. I am an avid defender of speech and expression. We all should give each other a chance to express our opinions and disagree.”

McFadden said that LGBT students feel the resource center is necessary in helping the university combat what center supporters feel is a problem of homosexual discrimination.

“You can’t walk around campus and see that somebody’s gay just by looking at them as you can with other minorities; even to a certain extent with religious minorities you can see people wearing yarmulkes or going to the prayer room,” LGBT student Patrick Metz (COL ’05) said. “It’s very important for LGBT people to manifest their presence somewhere in an active manner, because there is no other way to see that they’re there.”

In an attempt to show the administration that there was broad support for the resource center, supporters circulated a petition, garnering signatures of over 1,000 students, teachers and faculty of all orientations, as well as several priests.

Many Georgetown students, as well as prospective students saw the LGBT chalking of Red Square during GAAP Weekend. Fearing the reaction of other Georgetown students to the chalk demonstration, cFadden and other LGBT students kept a vigil watching the chalkings overnight.

“During the course of the night we had students spit on the chalkings, we had people literally trying to pick fights, we had tons of people walking through and screaming faggot,” cFadden said. “It was a lot worse than I ever would’ve thought at Georgetown.”

In addition, Gonzalez received over 100 letters from LGBT students depicting their personal stories of hostility and harassment. Some said they faced homophobic roommates, others said they dealt with humiliation in classes caused by students and even professors. Still others coped with derogatory messages and verbal abuse.

Such stories were a major argument LGBT students gave Gonzalez to support their resource center proposal. LGBT students said that explicit acts of hostility or discrimination are not the only problems they face on campus.

“In terms of outright harassment, it certainly happens, but it wasn’t the primary concern for us, because the school, when it comes down to explicit harassment, does a pretty good job of standing up for whoever it is that’s being harassed,” McFadden said. “I think for us the primary problems weren’t necessarily outright discrimination or outright harassment; they’re much more socially created problems that just form a general atmosphere.”

The committee that recommended a resource center to Gonzalez also talked with LGBT students to find what types of other problems they face. According to the committee’s report, homosexuals are at a high risk for depression, eating disorders, suicide attempts and other socially-induced problems. The committee found that, of roughly 100 LGBT students asked, all had experienced one of these problems, many more than one.

“For most, those things were issues that they faced in their lives and so that for us was the primary concern – how do we foster an environment that makes it so LGBT students aren’t at high risk for depression, isolation, eating disorders, suicide and harassment?” McFadden said. “The resource center, for us, was one of the ways of doing that.”

McFadden said that, in the past, opponents of the resource center have argued that concentrating LGBT resources to one location would make the center a target for hostility and harassment. LGBT students, however, said that their stories show that the tendency for harassment and discrimination exists on campus already. The positive influence the center would have for the LGBT student population would far outweigh any increase in harassment, they said. Rather than isolating what is perceived as an already-integrated minority, according to LGBT students, it would actually integrate LGBT students who feel isolated from the majority of the student population.

During discussions between the committee and Gonzalez about the recommendations and the possibility of a LGBT resource center, cFadden said that the committee was told that the administration was under pressure from outside sources such as conservative alumni local religious leaders not to fund the LGBT resource center. In response, LGBT supporters contacted members of the D.C. Council as well as Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) (SFS ’66, LAW ’69) to exert pressure in the other direction.

“One of the things we told them in that meeting was that we would be doing our best to bring what outside pressure we could bear on the other side,” McFadden said. “The letter-writing campaign was part of that, D.C. council members were part of that, students and the petition were all part of that. It’s all been part of a much larger goal, not to pressure the university into anything, but to show that there is as significant support for [the resource center] as they worry there is against it.”

The long and complex history of the issue of homosexuality at Georgetown continues today. The administration maintains that Georgetown cannot fund the resource center because of its counter-Catholic nature. McFadden said that LGBT students are happy with the compromise but insist the center could be run so as not to conflict with Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage. He said he believes that the virtues of the center so greatly outweigh the possible vices that they must continue to fight for its funding.

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