Being Queer on a Catholic Campus

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As part of National Coming Out Week, University Ministry teamed with Queer Alliance and the Gender & Sexuality Center to host a forum exploring what it means to be a queer student and faculty member on a Catholic Campus.

Students and faculty gathered near the cafeteria, many of them sporting rainbow-colored buttons on their book bags and shirts, to participate in a round table discussion on the state of the gay community on campus.

Rev. Donald Godfrey, S.J., was among one of the special invitees who spoke about the relationship between the gay and lesbian experience on a Catholic campus in San Francisco.

Having grown up in Ireland, a country that has been long known for its conservative Catholic roots, Godfrey has often reflected on the following question: could a person be accepted as Catholic and gay?
“I don’t believe being Catholic and being gay is an oxymoron,” said Godfrey, associate director of University Ministry. “There are people on this campus who are both [Catholic and gay] and the church needs the experiences and voices of the gay community. There has to be an engagement between the Catholic tradition and the gay experience.”

Godfrey cited his experience at USF and in the San Francisco LGBTQ community as having helped to shape his understanding of the relationship between the Catholic faith and the gay lifestyle.
The Castro, before becoming the epicenter of the gay rights movement in the 1970s, was home to many Irish Catholic immigrants who left a lasting legacy.

For Godfrey, the fusion of the two cultures, while at times contentious, has helped both communities to reconcile their understandings of faith and sexuality. Godfrey has since returned several times to Northern Ireland to help the gay and lesbian community of both the Catholic and Protestant Church wrestle with these same questions.

Dr. Shirley McGuire, professor of psychology, had some serious reservations as to whether Catholic universities around the country were ready to give support to the LGBTQ community.

After arriving at USF from the University of San Diego in 2001, McGuire wondered just how revealing she could be about her sexuality.

“I had my doubts and I believed I probably needed to stay in the closet because it was a Catholic university,” she said.

Having grown up in a strong Catholic family in Buffalo, N.Y., Ms. McGuire had long struggled to find a venue in which she could talk about the issue of sexuality and Catholicism with the help of a support group.

After coming to USF, things began to change for the better. McGuire and a group of 12 USF faculty members formed a caucus to aid LGBTQ members in their quest to “form an adult relationship with the Church.”

“When I visit other Catholic campuses, they have trouble talking about their sexuality,” said McGuire. “Here, I think we [USF] are starting to do a better job of reconciling both religion and sexuality.”

Nevertheless, the push to incorporate the LGBTQ community at USF has been gradual, and in the eyes of some students at the roundtable, not committed enough.

Andy Berlin, a Theology major, had been skeptical of the acceptance of St. Ignatius Church toward gay members of the community. For Berlin, the “juxtaposition” between the conservative stance of many Catholic Churches and the activism college students showed against Proposition 8 was one he thought couldn’t coexist.

Despite the issue of St. Ignatius, however, Berlin, who was raised by a single, lesbian, Catholic mother, has found the University and the classroom to be accepting of the LGBTQ lifestyle. According to Berlin, for some the idea of a gay Theology major seems incompatible.

“Coming to this university, I’ve rediscovered an appreciation for my faith,” said Berlin. “I actually feel the Theology major has the most queer-friendly staff.”

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