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When I first proposed to the Dart staff that we cover Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Catholic high schools, I hoped this story would be showcased on the cover, center spread and editorial pages of this issue.
However, after discussions with Dart advisor Eric Thomas, STA president Nan Bone and the Dart staff, I decided as editor-in-chief that the best place to present this information is here, in the opinion pages. Due to the sensitivity of the issue and hesitation by members of the Dart staff about the initial plan, it is the best decision for the newspaper that I display this as an op-ed, not the cover story.
After three months of researching GSAs in Catholic schools, there is one question I always return to. Are GSAs contrary to Catholic values?
A GSA is a student club that works to improve a school climate for all students. These clubs exist in thousands of high schools and colleges–public, private and Catholic– providing a safe, supportive community for students, including straight allies (heterosexual people who support LGBTQ students). These clubs offer support through panel discussions of LGBTQ issues, monthly meetings and presentations during Anti-Bullying Week.
Considering all of this, STA should have an administration-moderated club to promote acceptance and understanding of lesbian and bisexual students in our school not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the Christ-like thing to do.
Lesbian, bisexual and straight students attend St. Teresa’s and want to form a GSA. Why would the school deny them the opportunity to support one another?
The answer stems from “a few seeming contradictions” in two documents published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) regarding homosexuality, according to Father Pat Rush of Visitation Parish.
In short, Catholic doctrine on homosexuality is this: “While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not.” This statement appeared in “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” a USCCB document published in 2006.
According to Rush, this document is one of two frequently examined USCCB documents on homosexuality. “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination” is more “restrictive” according to Rush. On the other hand, “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministeries,” published in 1997, is more “pastoral.”
Due to the “seeming contradictions” between these documents, schools like STA must interpret Church teachings on homosexuality in the high school setting.
Junior Hattie Svoboda-Stel approached principal for student affairs Mary Anne Hoecker at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year and asked to start a GSA at STA. According to Svoboda-Stel, Hoecker responded that Svoboda-Stel could not start the club.
Bone, on behalf of the administration of STA, declined to comment.
Some believe STA cannot have a GSA because the school does not want to attract negative attention from Robert Finn, Bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“Through and through [STA is] a Catholic school, and we support Catholic values,” Svoboda-Stel said. “I think having a GSA would support Catholic values.”
Though Svoboda-Stel believes GSAs are in accordance with Church values, some Catholics disagree.
One school embodying the balance between Church doctrine and support for LGBTQ students is Moreau Catholic High School of Hayward, Calif, which began a Diversity in Action club in 2004
Because Moreau is a Catholic school, the club is not technically considered to be a GSA, although it is much like a classic GSA according to Moreau’s assistant principal of student life Katie Teekell. The club cannot use the word “gay” in its title or the acronym “LGBTQ” in any flyers or announcements. In the club meetings, students cannot openly discuss their personal lives, instead discussing issues such as relationships and the Church’s position on homosexuality.
However, the club is impacting the school, according to moderator Michelle Dwyer, who has taught at Moreau for 12 years. Since the club began, Dwyer has seen more openness in her students to discussing LGBTQ issues.
“[Diversity in Action] makes a difference to the students who come [to Moreau] and think, ‘Wow, there’s a place for me here and acceptance for people like me,’ whether or not they decide to join the club,” Dwyer said.
Teekell agrees that providing a community of acceptance is key.
“You can talk doctrine, but the Catholic Church supports its members,” Teekell said. “While there are different documents and doctrine about homosexual acts, the purpose of the Church and school is to provide a community of support.”
Sister Patty Clune, who sits on the board of directors at STA, is open to a discussing how STA could improve in being a place where ‘all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear and all must be helped.’”
“Whatever needs to be in place to make sure those words ring true, I’m happy to be part of that conversation,” Clune said. “That’s the message that needs to be a part of the reality here.”
STA can sponsor a GSA to promote acceptance and understanding without advocating homosexual acts or gay marriage, which the Church does not support. If the club was moderated by an administrator and if that administrator clearly articulated the Church’s beliefs on the subject, STA could have a GSA. Then, we could support all students and could fully live out our motto of “Neighbor to neighbor without distinction.”
There is a way to make this work. There is a way to find harmony between our deeply-rooted Catholic faith and our deeply-rooted belief in a house where “all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear and all must be helped.”
We must search for that harmony.
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The administration should continue denying the creation of a gay-straight-alliance (GSA) at St. Teresa’s. After being asked twice by students to form a GSA, the school appropriately said no. By definition a GSA has nothing to do with offering the Catholic perspective on homosexuality.
According to the GSA network’s official website, a GSA is “a student-run club in a high school or middle school that brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) and straight students to support each other, provide a safe place to socialize, and create a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia.”
The GSA network was founded in 1998 by Carolyn Laub. Prior to 2008 the GSA Network was a fiscally sponsored project of The Tides Center. According to gsanetwork.org the network has become incorporated as its own independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Since GSAs are an established non-profit organization with their own goals, STA shouldn’t make its own GSA and bend the principles of the GSA network to fit STA’s own needs.
According to the website “The goal of a GSA is to provide a safe, supportive environment for LGBTQ and straight ally youth to meet and discuss sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and to work to create a school environment free of discrimination, harassment, and intolerance.”
Altogether the GSA network’s website offers many differently worded definitions of what exactly a GSA is. However not one definition states anything about teaching the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality.
The book of Genesis teaches that all human beings are made in the image of likeness of God, and all human beings are deserving of respect and love. According to Pope John Paul II the only way one can love and truly respect a homosexual is through offering the truth of the Catholic Church. GSAs don’t.
According to the former bishop of Brooklyn, Thomas Daily, “The actions and attitudes of society which seek to condone and promote homosexual activity are ultimately a form of injustice and harm to the homosexual and to all human persons,” Daily wrote in his letter regarding homosexuality. “While striving to be truly just and compassionate to the homosexual person, we must never defer to the appearance of justice and compassion which is a deception and an opposition to the truth.”
The “truth” that Daily is referring to is what the Catholic Church calls the truth of Christ. According to Daily there can be no true love and care for the homosexual person unless we give them a clear understanding of the church’s teachings. A GSA does not offer the church’s teachings.
Daily further argues, “Any educational curriculum which seeks to instill in our children the belief that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable is to be considered as an immoral affront to the natural rights and dignity of our children.”
Although a GSA would not be part of the STA curriculum it would still imply to all of our students that a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable. By choosing to go to STA, we all chose to be a part of a community that is in accordance with the Catholic Church. We all chose to abide by the teachings of the Church, and if a student can’t accept those teachings then a Catholic high school may not be the best place for them.
At STA we believe that all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear and all must be helped. Why must we have a GSA to fulfill this? Everyone should already be loved and helped regardless of whether or not we have an “alliance” between students. “[The church] refuse[s] to relegate [homosexuals] to a ‘separate but equal’ category which ultimately denies them their basic human dignity and Christian nobility,” Daily wrote. A GSA could create separation between those who are in the club and those who aren’t, giving that “separate but equal” feel that the church refuses to accept.
STA also prides itself on her motto “neighbor to neighbor without distinction.” Creating a GSA would create a distinction between people who are in the alliance and people who are not. It is also a distinction that the Church refuses to acknowledge.
“The Church provides care of the human person when [the church] refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God…” Daily wrote.
I feel it necessary to say that I think a GSA can be a beneficial place for the LGBTQ community to feel love and support, but because it offers no teaching on the Catholic doctrine it is not appropriate to be in a Catholic high school like STA.