Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Cultural Barriers Facing Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students at a Catholic College

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Cultural Barriers Facing Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students at a Catholic College

Article excerpt

The guys I lived with my sophomore year made statements like, "No one at St. James is gay." They really thought that, and I was living with them. They just were very sure that no one who was gay would come here.

Dave, founding member of the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Alliance

Dave(1) was a senior at St. James College,(2) a religiously affiliated institution (RAI), and part of a group trying to establish a gay, lesbian, and bisexual alliance. Invisibility was but one of the obstacles he and other students had to overcome. Quentin, a psychology professor and former residence hall chaplain, knew of other barriers at St. James - in this case assumptions related to Catholicism - faced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students. During his first year as a residence hall chaplain, Quentin knew of no students who were out, though he did know of several students who had attempted to take their own lives because of their sexual orientation. He described an incident where a student tried unsuccessfully to hang himself with a belt. Quentin had become aware of the situation and, in consultation with the counseling center, confronted the student. The student almost immediately began to cry and broke down telling Quentin, "It's horrible. I can't cut it." Quentin responded, "Well, maybe I can help you. . . . Could it have something to do with sexual orientation?" And the student said, "Yes, but you don't know what it's like. You don't know. The church condemns it. It's sinful." The student would not give Quentin his word that he would not make another suicide attempt, claiming Quentin did not understand what his life was like. So Quentin told the student he also was gay. It was the first time Quentin ever came out to a student.

St. James College experienced a period of ferment regarding the issue of sexual orientation between the fall of 1991 and the fall of 1993. For the first time in the memories of long-time members of the institution, sexual orientation was a topic of public discussion and a focus of organizing, training, and programming. People Against Homophobia (a faculty and staff "allies" group) formed in the fall of 1991. During their first year they helped add sexual orientation to the institution's nondiscrimination clause, produced "People Against Homophobia" buttons that they wore and distributed on campus, and secured funding for and invited a national speaker to campus to discuss self-esteem issues of lesbian and gay students. Residence life, through professional and paraprofessional staff, conducted training and programming in the area of sexual orientation. Students Against Homophobia (a student "allies" group) and the Continuum Group (a counseling center based support group for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students) were established during the fall of 1992. Also during the fall semester, the Student Senate sponsored a Diversity Forum to which Students Against Homophobia was invited. By the spring of 1993, a faculty member (Quentin) had come out in the context of a class, several other students had come out on campus, and a group of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students had left the Continuum Group and had begun working to establish the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Alliance [GLBA] of St. James College.

However, by fall semester 1993 organizing had waned. The GLBA never coalesced, People Against Homophobia (PAH) stopped meeting, Students Against Homophobia (SAH) had their only meeting of the semester in November, and discussion and programming had dramatically diminished on campus. This study discovered the organizational cultural barriers facing those individuals and groups addressing sexual orientation at St. James and explored the cultural dynamics that played a part in diminishing activity related to sexual orientation at this religiously affiliated institution.

Religiously Affiliated Institutions and Sexual Orientation

All colleges and universities exist within a societal culture that is homophobic and heterosexist, and so all institutions struggle in some way with issues related to sexual orientation. …

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