by RikkiLynn Shields
For decades, public and private universities all over have struggled with correctly supporting and recognizing LGBTQ students. Religious schools, such as Catholic institutions of higher learning, have also had to deal with the challenge of upholding certain religious teachings, while creating a safe space for all students, including those of the LGBTQ community and those that don’t identify as LGBTQ alike.
Manhattan College is an independent Lasallian Catholic college, with a rich tradition of faith and eduction embedded in its roots. The college is proud to stand by its mission statement: “[Manhattan College] embraces qualified men and women of all faiths, cultures and traditions.”
While many Catholic colleges offer LGBTQ clubs, Catholic ministry for LGBTQ students, and a variety of other services offered, it’s easy for an individual who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community to feel left out being at a Catholic institution, due to the history of the Catholic teachings and common misconceptions that go along with these teachings.
Whether one attends a Lasallian college or not, many people are not familiar with the five points of the Lasallian star, or the five core values that the Manhattan College faculty and staff are committed to, that were set forth by John Baptist de La Salle: (1) Respect for all people. (2) Quality Education. (3) Inclusive Community. (4) Concern for the Poor and Social Justice. (5) Faith in the Presence of God. The five points of the star exemplify Manhattan’s utmost acceptance and respect towards everyone, whether they follow the Catholic tradition or not.
Along with the five points, many people, even Catholics, lack proper knowledge of the Catholic Church’s true feelings towards the LGBTQ+ community.
In 1992, the Vatican under Pope John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which stated, among many other things, that “homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered.”
About two decades later, Pope Francis has been turning the tables for the better. In 2013, when Pope Francis was asked about gay priests, he famously replied, “Who am I to judge?” Since then, he has continued to work for the Catholic Church to treat LGBTQ people with dignity and respect, and he continues to work to fight discrimination against sexual minorities.
This forward-thinking mindset is exactly what is helping the Catholic church transition from a position of tolerance to inclusion. Another way that LGBTQ students are finding visible support and acceptance on Catholic college campuses, specifically Manhattan, is creating student groups and clubs.
Manhattan College’s first club recognizing the LGBTQ community was formed in the early 1980s for “friends and allies” of the community to join, as well. However, the current leaders of the LGBTQ Student Group on campus have been going above and beyond to raise awareness, gain involvement, and make themselves known.
Roi Mase, a junior government and international studies double-major from Sparta, N.J., is president of the LGBTQ Club, and considers himself “a proud, out, and loud Gay Rights activist and feminist!”
While the club has been around on campus for many years, like any other club, it has gone through its ups and downs. However, as president of the club, Mase plans to keep the club stable and flourishing for his last two years here, and many years to come.
“After last year when the club fell apart, Chris Nuzzo (the secretary) and I were given control of the club by student engagement and from there we wanted to revamp its presence on campus. I pretty much do anything from creating posters to requesting event spaces, but I’m primarily there to make sure that there is a designated LGBTQ space on campus,” Mase said.
The most recent name of the club that we are aware of is “LGBT Friends and Allies,” which the club was named in 2015. However, the name of the club was changed this past year, to “LGBTQ Student Group.”
“This year we changed the group name [to LGBTQ Student Group] specifically for the purpose of having a designated LGBTQ group and space on campus, but allies of course are more than welcome to attend,” Mase said.
While an assumption is often made that the faculty, staff, and/or student body of a Catholic college may be comprised of individuals perceived as homophobic and stereotypically heteronormative, Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., the club’s faculty advisor, along with the club leaders and members, can justify that their experiences being part of the LGBTQ Club on Manhattan’s campus has not reinforced this convention.
“There’s an inherent contradiction in these teachings, and I’m afraid it leads to some awful things — people who were taught that gay sex is sinful, felt empowered to crucify Matthew Shepard in Laramie in 1998. I think this is an area where the church needs to think harder about what we are called to do as a people of God,” said Groarke.
Groarke became the faculty advisor for the club this year. Continually, she once mentioned to Mase that she worked up for “Act Up,” a group of individuals committed to ending the AIDS crisis, in the 1990s. Hearing this, Mase felt as if she would be perfect for the position.
“I thought since she was an active member of the community that she would be perfect. She joined this year and has been tremendously helpful in organizing events and such,” Mase said.
Sophomore Chris Nuzzo, secretary of the LGBTQ Club, works with the club’s social media accounts, makes posters and flyers and also works alongside all members of the executive board to collaboratively plan events and activities.
“The LGBTQ Student Group likes to focus on both bringing awareness to LGBTQ rights and injustices, as well as having a strong social presence with our members and the Manhattan College community. 42 percent of LGBTQ youth feel that the community in which they are living is not accepting of who they are,” said Nuzzo. “We strive to be a community to those in the community who need somewhere to turn, or people who just want to hang out and chat.”
While the goals of the club are primarily to spread awareness of the LGBTQ community on campus, especially a Catholic campus that might not be familiar with our issues, the club is creating an inclusive community by educating the students, faculty, and staff, whether they are aware of it or not.
“Having an LGBTQ group on campus to me means that there is a sense of community in my school. Sometimes it is very difficult for LGBTQ people to meet each other, let alone hang out in public spaces like everyone else. This club not only serves as a body to plan fun events, but also can serve as a tool for people of all backgrounds to find confidence and enjoy themselves as people,” Mase said.
As of now, the club meets every other Wednesday in Cornerstone in Miguel at 4:00 p.m. Next semester, however, the club hopes to hold more events, along with their biweekly meetings. The club is more than happy to welcome everyone to the events they host on campus, whether they be part of the club or not.
“Many of the people on MC’s campus have grown up in Catholic schools where they are lead to believe that people of the LGBTQ community don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else. The club is a way for people to recognize that we as a community are the same as each and every person on campus. We are working to make our voices heard and make sure that the members of the community on campus are well taken care of,” Nuzzo said.
This delicate attempt to balance a history of religious beliefs alongside recognizing and accepting the LGBTQ community, while i often seems to put students in a conflicted state of acceptance, at Manhattan College, the LGBTQ community is not only represented– but also accepted.
On Thursday, Nov. 9. at 6:00 p.m., the LGBTQ Club is having an event in Hayden 100 titled “Vogue, Drag, & Family.” This event will feature a movie on the house culture of drag queens who compete in the ball circuit. The guest speaker, Hector Xtravaganza, is the head of the House of Xtravaganza, and will be discussing the movie which he is featured in. Whether you are a member of the club or not, you are more than welcome to attend.
“I think having a LGBTQ club on campus is not only important for a Catholic college, but essential for the social health of a modern student body. One of the main principles in the Gay Liberation movement of the 1960s was to be visible; to show the general public that we are people just like everyone else. I think that same mentality can apply to our group at Manhattan College– to show our student body that we are like everyone else– Jaspers,” Mase said.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Nuzzo is a staff writer for The Quadrangle.