LGBT Group Faces Tolerance, If Not Always Acceptance, At Catholic University of Dayton
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With an easy laugh and earnest smile, Maria Zampino, president of Spectrum, stands inside the doorway of a conference room warmly welcoming anyone who floats in for the organization’s meeting. Spectrum is a student organization that is dedicated to advocating the respect and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students on the University of Dayton’s campus. Its mission is to help provide a safe space for students who associate with LGBT as well as create campus awareness about LGBT issues and educate students to gain support for this cause.
Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is a challenge for any young person, but there are particular challenges for those whose religious and sexual identities seem at odds. It wasn’t until Zampino came to the University of Dayton and joined Spectrum that she discovered how to balance her Catholic beliefs and position as an ally to the LGBT community.
“It’s a very sore subject in my family because the acceptance of homosexuality isn’t tolerated. They are super religious,” Zampino said. “But even when I was little, it never occurred to me that homosexuality was something that was wrong.”
According to Zampino, the university has taken strides to create awareness about gender identity and sexual orientation, but she feels the school can do more. The University of Dayton is a Catholic university associated with the Marianist order and considers ‘community’ a major founding principle.
“There is a general feel that there is a high tolerance level,” Zampino said, “but there still isn’t acceptance.”
Senior Mark Kocoloski, who is not involved with Spectrum, said that it seems the organization is well accepted by the majority of the student body.
“The word community is used a lot around here and I think the student body really prides itself on being friendly, open, and accepting to others,” Kocoloski said. “It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that Spectrum appears to be accepted just like any other group or organization on campus.”
Fifth year senior Ellie Dankelson has seen how coming out and identifying as anything other than heterosexual can be difficult.
“When I was a freshman, my really good friend, living on my floor, came out,” Dankelson recalled. “Everyone seemed fine about it, but there were girls who freaked out and said things behind her back. They didn’t like the idea of sharing a bathroom with someone who was gay, someone who was not like them.”
According to materials provided by the 2011 White House conference on bullying, many students who identify as homosexual are subject to harassment. The materials reference a 2009 national school climate survey on LGBT youth, which reported nearly 85 percent of LGBT students have been verbally abused and 40 percent of LGBT students were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
Dankelson believes a person’s upbringing strongly determines how they respond to homosexuality.
“So much of what a person does depends on their background,” Dankelson said. “You’re going to have people who have been around [homosexuality] and those who don’t know how to react to it.”
Flower Ortega, vice-president of Catholic Life, a religious organization on campus, is one of the students who is not on board with Spectrum’s mission and values. While she and several of her Catholic peers have been invited to attend Spectrum’s events and meetings to learn more about the organization, they have always declined the invitation.
“I would feel extremely uncomfortable [attending], I stand with the church in regards to homosexuality,” Ortega said. “People know how I feel about homosexuality and what I believe, so to go to a Spectrum event, I’d feel like everyone would think I hated them. I don’t, I just have my beliefs."
In the eyes of Catholic Life members, homosexuality itself is not something to be scorned, however the actions and lifestyles that Spectrum supports are.
“This guy in our group talks about how he identifies as gay but is Catholic and agrees with the teachings of the church. He would never pursue it because homosexuality is not a sin, but to engage in the act is,” Ortega explained. “In the end, a homosexual act is wrong and goes against God’s plan for humanity.”
According to "Always our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministries," a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church’s views on homosexuality line up with Ortega’s response to Spectrum:
“First, it is God’s plan that sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman. Second, every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of human life. Homosexual intercourse cannot fulfill these two conditions. Therefore, the Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself.”
Some members of Catholic Life feel more passionate about their beliefs towards homosexuality, saying that even supporting LGBT organizations is a sin. Earlier this year, the University of Dayton put on a musical production, “Bare” that depicted the relationship between two homosexual high school students. In response to the play, a member of the student organization posted on the Catholic Life’s Facebook page to inform members of the event that the musical was ‘supporting homosexuality.’
“This is a Catholic university. If [the play] is promoting an agenda contrary to Catholicism then is should be banned,” said one student in a conversation thread on Catholic Life’s Facebook page. “If you claim to be Catholic, which I assume is the reason you joined this group, then you must believe homosexual acts are sinful, unless you have been ignorant of the Church’s teachings on this. Holding this opinion is a sin against faith and severs you from the Catholic Church.”
Former Spectrum president and senior Ellie Klug said that she feels there is a discrepancy within the university’s administration between tolerance and acceptance.
Klug referred back to a time when Spectrum was campaigning for a project called “Faces of Openness.” The campaign featured faculty members who were accepting of LGBT students, and their photos all formed a rainbow image. As a potential donor for the university was touring the school, they expressed their discomfort with the photos and a week later, the posters were removed without explanation. Klug felt that this response represented intolerance from the university’s administration.
“It isn’t outright harassment, but it’s that silence that makes people not know who our group is and who to turn to if they’re having problems on campus,” Klug said. “I think if the administration fully supported Spectrum they should come out and say so instead of just quietly tolerating us on campus.”
University officials, after originally agreeing to a phone interview, retracted their decision to speak on an open-line, and instead responded to questions about the university’s stance on the Spectrum group and other student organizations in general through an email response.
“Spectrum functions like any other recognized student organization on campus and has a campus minister who serves a liaison,” said Amy Lopez Matthews, executive director of the university’s Center for Student Involvement. “The relationship is a positive one and it is in accordance with Catholic teachings.”
University officials said the university promotes treating all students and people in the community with human dignity and respect.
Junior Alex Fred, Spectrum’s Activities Chair, says that those who voice their disagreement with the values and beliefs of the Spectrum are within the minority on campus.
Spectrum member Vanessa Perez says that there will always be people who do not agree with the organization’s mission, but that will not stop them from doing what they do.
“The [non-supporters] don’t care to listen to what we have to say. The Bible is the Bible, Jesus is Jesus, and that’s that. When it comes down to it we have our beliefs and opinions too and we are proud of that.”