Gay-Straight protest takes place on campus

Approximately 20 students gathered on the Great Lawn Friday to express their dissatisfaction in response to the University’s lack of a Gay-Straight Alliance.

The event, Colors of Acceptance, was created by an anonymous Facebook user who goes by the alias of “Harvey Milk,” in reference to the late politican and gay rights activist. Protesters  played songs including Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,” and held signs reading “TOLERANCE” and “We condemn sexism and racism; why is homophobia okay?  Don’t support discrimination” to get their points across.

If creating a Gay-Straight Alliance fails, “then another goal we have is to get awareness out there that there are people here that won’t accept it,” said Tim Spriggs, a junior. “They won’t accept being disrespected and being told ‘no, your voice doesn’t count.  No, you’re not viable to the school community.'”    

Spriggs, who said he is not part of the LGBTQ community, firmly believes that “injustice against anyone is injustice against everyone.”

The event was accompanied by a petition that is intended to be presented to the administration of St. John’s, the event’s Facebook page said.

Jessica Simonetti, who graduated from St. John’s in May 2010, took the day out of work to attend the event to support a cause that she said is extremely important to her.

Simonetti said she could have benefitted greatly from the support that comes with a Gay-Straight Alliance when struggling with her sexuality when she was a student at St. John’s.

“I think that if there was a support group and more visibility I would have come to terms with things a lot quicker,” she said. “We take pride in our students and expect everyone to represent St. John’s and make St. John’s look good and yet we don’t even support some of these people and who they are.”

Simonetti was accompanied by a supportive friend, who attended Layola Marymount University in California; a Catholic institution that she said has a Gay-Straight Alliance.

St. John’s created the Safe Zone program in 2009 as a support system for LGBTQ students while keeping with the University’s Vincentian mission, according to the program’s official Web site.

Simonetti said the  Safe Zone program is a step in the right direction but is not enough. Others agree that it lacked effectiveness in serving as a presence for gay students on campus.

“Safe Zone is a half-hearted attempt for St. John’s to come across as caring about the homosexual community,” Spriggs said. “As an institution of higher education, you’re supposed to accept people for who they are and let them have a voice.  This is St. John’s University, this isn’t St. John’s Parish.”

When asked for a comment, Dominic Scianna, vice president of Media Relations, said the University was not informed that a protest would be going on. Scianna said that the University has worked with students for more than a year and a half on the issue, in a statement.

“St. John’s is a Catholic university and, as such, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles permeate and inform University activities,” he said. “And while we would not recognize a gay alliance, the University does not expect its students to compromise their identities and values, and St. John’s students should not expect that the University compromise its own institutional identities and values.”