Two weeks after the Catholic University of America rejected the proposal for CUAllies, a student organization for LGBT students and their allies, the club's lead organizer says supporters have not conceded. Instead, they may push for a student-wide referendum to support the formation of an on-campus LGBT group.
The official reason given by university administrators to supporters of the club – which included 20 of the 23 members of the school's Student Association and representatives from multiple other campus student groups – for the rejection was that administrators fear such a group would become an advocacy organization.
But Ryan Fecteau, speaker of the Student Association at the D.C.-based university and the former director of the unsanctioned CUAllies, says that rationale fails to take into account repeated attempts – over a period of more than nine months – by LGBT students and supporters to allay administrators' fears by promising the organization would not actively promote causes that might be in conflict with Catholic Church with regard to homosexuality.
The school's decision was especially galling to supporters in light of the fact that Catholic University previously had an officially recognized gay and lesbian student organization, from 1988 to 2002, according to Fecteau.
Catholic University's decision contrasts with its fellow Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which announced in early December that the school planned to expand support for the campus LGBT community by, among other things, finally recognizing an official LGBT student organization. That Notre Dame request dates at least back to 1986.
The disparity between various Catholic institutions underscores the divergence of opinion, even among members of the same faith, on how best to respond to calls for more inclusivity and acceptance of LGBTQ people. Also in D.C., for example, Georgetown University, affiliated with Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, opened an LGBTQ Resource Center in 2008.
Responding to the rejection of CUAllies' application to become an officially recognized student group, Fecteau was surprised, particularly given the tone of conversations supporters had been having with administrators.
''In essence, this university denied CUAllies and LGBT students communion,'' Fecteau said in a statement released Dec. 7, a day after the organization was formally rejected. ''They said to us that we are not valued enough to participate in this campus community, this faith community, this human community because of our sexual orientation.''
As supporters of CUAllies awaited a decision on the status of the club, more than 30 student leaders, including Fecteau, signed and a letter to CUA President John Garvey in October, calling attention to the poor rating Catholic University received from the Princeton Review, placing sixth on the list of ''Least LGBT-friendly Colleges.'' In that letter, the students encouraged Garvey to adopt some policies to make the campus more LGBT-friendly, including allowing the formation of a campus group similar to CUAllies.
Garvey and other administration officials later met with those student leaders, promising more dialogue about the LGBT community and acknowledging a need for more support on campus, Fecteau said.
In response to Metro Weekly inquiries, Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs for the university, issued a statement via email that reiterated the school's reasoning.
''In declining the request for official university recognition of CUAllies, the administrators indicated their belief that, in spite of the group's stated intent to uphold Catholic Church teachings, it would be extremely difficult for that pledge to be honored over time,'' Nakas wrote. ''They pointed out that there is a fine line, easily crossed, between a group dedicated to education and support of individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals and one that engages in advocacy on behalf of a homosexual lifestyle.''
Fecteau says he disagrees with administrators' logic, equivalent to refusing to recognize the College Democrats, he says, because of the potential that the organization might become an ''advocacy'' organization on behalf of causes, such as abortion, that conflict with church teaching.
Still, he says, CUAllies will continue to offer events, service projects and open dialogue about how LGBT individuals can participate fully in their shared Catholic faith.
Fecteau adds that the new speaker of the Student Association is supportive of the student-wide referendum proposal.
Fecteau warns, however, that university officials could still refuse recognition even if such a referendum passed. But, he adds, at the very least such a rejection would show the university making a decision that was opposed by the majority of its students and put them under tremendous pressure to make the university more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.