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Op-ed: My place as an LGBTQA+ student on SVC campus

I love Saint Vincent College. I love walking around and saying “hi” to people on the path, seeing Dougie in the Carey Lounge and being welcomed by Boniface Wimmer’s open arms every time I return on campus. I know I am getting a quality education; and, as a senior, I feel ready to progress to the next steps in my life.

It was here, at SVC, that I really became myself – openly and honestly. Most of you who know me know that I am bisexual. I am grateful to all my friends, teammates and professors who have been so supportive and accepting of this, because at the end of the day, I am still just Kat.

However, lately, institutional Saint Vincent has broken my heart. I have stayed up countless nights, had multiple conversations about it and cried.

Just cried.

Some of you may be aware of past and recent efforts to start a gay-straight-alliance (GSA) or LGBTQA+ club on campus, with the purpose of helping to foster that sense of hospitality and community that SVC claims to strive for.

Last year, Melissa Anderson ‘17 led a movement to start a club like this on campus, following all the outlined procedures to do so according to SGA rules and the student handbook. A committee proposal was presented to Student Affairs, which sent it to Br. Norman, who approved the proposal.

“We had everything we needed,” Anderson said. “Extra student signatures, extra faculty signatures, an explanation as to how our constitution fit with the Benedictine values. […] Any other club would’ve been accepted in a heartbeat.”

Senior biochemistry major, Josh Centore, said, “Having a support group would have certainly helped me feel more comfortable and at ease with who I am and would have taken one of the biggest stresses off my shoulders. Knowing that there are others going through a similar experience gives a unique sense of company and reassurance that you’re not in it alone.”

When it seemed as if the club was going to be approved, however, a petition emerged online, and Br. Norman was flooded with members of the community who were upset with his decision and advocated that it should be overridden. The result? The potential club was eliminated before it could even get off the ground.

“The whole process made me feel like we were just something to hide,” Anderson said.

My reaction to this ranged from shocked to angry, but ultimately landed on sorrowful. I felt unwanted by the school, uncared for and not welcome to be who I am.

But this was nothing compared to the brokenness I felt when I decided to read some of the reasons people listed for signing.

One man said: “I want to do anything I can to help prevent any Catholic institution from taking any step away from truth, goodness or beauty.”

Another professed: “Gay Catholics need to know they can be healed.”

(Although, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the Church does not believe homosexual people need healing, but that “Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (2358)).

A passionate alumnus proclaimed: “It is very important to me that the college retain its Catholic identity in order to lead the new evangelization against the culture of death!”

The posts continued to degrade my humanity as they went on: “…establishment of LGBTQA+ on the Catholic campus of Saint Vincent College is both scandalous and harmful to the faithful of the community.”

“We can’t leave them to their sin.”

“Help in stopping this atrocity.”

I could go on with more examples of this language that perceives LGBTQA+ members of the community as anti-Catholic and trying to tear down the entire establishment.

What hurts me most as an LGBTQA+ Catholic is the pervading feeling that I need fixing – that I am a broken human, I am wrong, my feelings are not real, my wants are not legitimate, that I am unlovable, and that God wants me in hell. These beliefs that are thrown in my face wound my humanity, but I carry on knowing that I am human, I am loved for who I am, and I am a contributing, positive member of my community.

After Anderson’s efforts, Br. Norman released a welcome back email on Jan. 17, 2017 for the spring semester that addressed the request and denial of an LGBTQA+ club.

The establishment of the “Student Advisory Group for Community Life” became the official response to the request of an LGBTQA+ club, according to one of the attachments.

The committee – composed of students, faculty, administrators, campus ministry, staff and student government – would “advise the President on issues related to the life of students as members of the Saint Vincent community,” the statement read.

The attachment also said, “They will offer advice on how we should deal most effectively with every form of discrimination whatever its basis: such as sexual orientation, racial, ethnic, cultural, and/or religious bigotry.”

Further, the document quotes Pope Francis saying, “Every person regardless of sexual orientation ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration.”

This Student Advisory Board does not meet but has been channeling efforts into “What’s in your Heart” student meetings with Dr. Jack Aupperle. While these are great and highly beneficial to a few LGBTQA+ students, minorities and students with concerns, these sessions are geared toward counseling – not toward solidarity, visibility and recognition.

It is the lack of public acknowledgment that is so hurtful.

A second attachment in Br. Norman’s email was the 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, aimed at the “visionary and high-level perspective of what we would like Saint Vincent to become.”

The plan contains zero mentions of “LGBTQA+” or “sexual orientation, ” which clearly shows that, while “economic, racial, ethnic, religious and geographic” differences (pg. 2) are all welcomed and encouraged to be a part of the college’s diversity, the institution does not extend the same acceptance to those identifying as LGBTQA+.

Some opponents of allowing a student-run LGBTQA+ group argue that it would suggest that the school endorses the LGBTQA+ philosophy. This argument holds little merit as the school has already recognized a variety of political, social and cultural organizations of clubs with diverse philosophies.

The heart of the discriminatory hypocrisy lies in the student handbook that every student is provided and is publicly available on the school website. On page 11 is a list of Student Rights. I would like to highlight a few:

“The right to matriculate in an environment free of religious indoctrination and coercion.”

“The right to participate fully in the academic and extracurricular life of the College.”

“The right to live and learn in an environment free from discrimination or harassment.”

“The right to be treated with respect by all members of the College community.”

“The right to address grievances through appropriate College procedures.”

Additionally, the school website’s Title IX page explicitly states that, based on the school’s strong tradition of respect and dignity, “No member of the College community is, or should be, excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination in, any College program or activity on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Let me repeat that.

No member of the College community is excluded from participating in any college program – such as creating a club – on the basis of sexual orientation.

While I would say most students and faculty are accepting and welcoming of our LGBTQA+ students, lack of acknowledgment from the school has opened many up to harassment from other students. It’s so upsetting to hear about instances where my own friends are insulted or looked down on in their own dorms.

While the school continues to ignore LGBTQA+ students, hate and harassment will persist on a campus that claims to uphold hospitality and community.

If you have experienced or seen others experience any form discrimination from an SVC faculty or staff member, please contact Dr. Smetanka, Vice President for Academic Affairs. If there is discrimination from other students, please contact Mrs. Collins, Vice President of Student Affairs.

Kathryn Straatmann is a senior biology major from Washington, MO. She will be attending Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Fall through the US Air Force HPSP scholarship.

Photos: Cameron Brennan; Kathryn Straatman

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