Around the world, an increasing number of lesbian, gay and trans people are winning high political office: a prime minister in Iceland, cabinet ministers (in Germany, for instance), mayors of large cities (Paris, Berlin, Houson), numerous members of parliament (even in Poland). A striking and familiar example was that of the US elections last November, which saw the election of the first LGBT US senator, five new LGBT members of congress, and a whole slew of victorious state and city legislators around the country.
Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry makes the important observation that this increasing visibility of LGBT in civil government is being replicated in Catholic colleges. Just as stronger representation of queer interests in civil government will inevitably result in more sympathetic legislation affecting our lives, so too this greater visibility on Catholic campuses will improve the response of college authorities to queer concerns on campus. In the longer term, as the present generation of student leaders grow into leadership positions in the wider world, Catholic and secular, they will inevitably force a continuing shift in (at the very least) pastoral tone by Catholic bishops.
Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.
The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :
“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.
“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”
Anthony Alfano of DePaul University
Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:
“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”
At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:
Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America
“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame. As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization. There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…
“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”
Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame
While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia
Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry