Flames of the Torch: STJ needs to get with the times

It’s 2013. Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, as it is in eight other states and the District of Columbia. Openly gay and lesbian soldiers are now free to openly serve in the United States military. The LGBTQ community is making inexorable progress to equality in all facets of life.

Unfortunately, that progress has not followed to St. John’s. The University continues to deny LGBTQ students the ability to organize a group of like-minded students, the ability it extends to other students of all nationalities, religious persuasions and personal interests. They do so citing Catholic principles, while ignoring the fact that most similar Catholic schools, including both of our fellow Vincentian schools, have student-run LGBTQ organizations like gay-straight alliances.

And far from being vulnerable in this area, St. John’s seems defiant, issuing a statement unequivocally stating that the school is not open to any sort of GSA, though Dr. Kathryn Hutchinson, vice president for student affairs, said her door is always open for discussion.

Whether she’s sincere in that remains to be seen. If she is, here’s what we would like to see – a student-run gay-straight alliance receiving money from the University, either through Student Government, Inc. or straight from the school.

What the LGBTQ students we’ve talked to desire is not a place they can go to be lectured to by an administrator, or a place where they can go to sound off to someone if they’ve been victimized.

No, the LGBTQ students at St. John’s want an organization where they can meet with other like-minded individuals without the watchful eye of members of the administration in the “How You Doin’” monthly meetings. St. John’s view on this seems to be distrust of the purpose of an organization. To us, the purpose is both innocent and clear: make a diverse campus more welcoming to all of its students, regardless of their skin color, beliefs or sexual orientation.

Diversity is what attracts many to St. John’s. It shouldn’t be different with sexual orientation.

We recognize that there are difficulties about reconciling Catholic teaching with the desire for equality among all students. To that, however, we pose this question – if five of the “Catholic 7” have managed to negotiate this, why can’t St. John’s?

“Love of neighbor, of all neighbors, is a Gospel demand in accord with which all of us will be judged,” reads Villanova’s “Catholic Perspective” on its web page for its Gay-Straight Coalition. The perspective also says, “all people, including people attracted to members of the same sex, are deserving of pastoral care.”

Rather than tackle this student issue head on, it seems as though the administration is choosing to wait it out or worse yet, minimize the experiences faced by so many members of this STJ community.

We hope the University realizes that being LGBTQ is not a problem that these students are stuck with but rather can accept it as a trait of their existence. We worry that through the Safe Zone, the school is reaching out to students in an “it’s ok, we’ll be there while you’re dealing with this problem,” kind of way.

That line of thinking may have been commonplace in 1980, but not in 2013. In 2013, all students, regardless of sexual orientation, demand equality. At St. John’s at least, those demands have yet to be met.

It seems as if St. John’s is on the wrong side of history, and will continue to be until the school wakes up to the evolving presence of LGBTQ students. As one of the students we spoke to put it, we “hope we’re not the last of the seven.”