By, Anna Woods, Senior Writer
A flyer promoting the Rainbow Jaspers, a student organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ students, was defaced with homophobic and religiously charged language. The incident has sparked outrage and concern among the student body, who are calling for swift action to address the matter and ensure a safe and inclusive campus environment.
The incident occurred on Friday, Jan 20 and was reported to the club by a passerby. The flyer, which shared various resources for both students and faculty, was located in Thomas Hall and was taken down shortly after it was reported.
The vandal wrote “This school cares more about left-wing political agendas than it actually does about God” and shredded a section of the flyer. A separate student crossed out most of the hate speech and altered the comments to read, “This school cares about all of God’s people.” The office of public safety and the office of the dean of students have since launched an investigation in search of the perpetrator.
Elliot Babilonia, a freshman and secretary of the Rainbow Jaspers, was one of the first students to be notified of the vandalism.
“When I got the notification, I was like, ‘I need to send it to the group chat immediately’,” Babilonia said. “It was very upsetting. When I got the email, I saw the vandalism. I was like … this semester just started, like this was a few weeks ago. And already, someone is vandalizing our poster. It’s not even a poster for an event –it’s a resource poster.”
Babilonia expressed their anguish and concern regarding how publicly the vandalism was located.
“Imagine who could have seen the flyer … imagine you are queer person, and … this is their introduction to Manhattan College … and they see that vandalism … It’s very discouraging and depressing,” Babilonia said.
They shared their own personal struggles as someone who is transgender and fights to exist in peace.
“If I could choose to be straight and if I could choose to be … cisgender, I would, because I don’t want to be trans. I don’t want to have to do the things that I do in order to pass every day, and actually feel like I have a chance of … being loved and valued for who I am as a person,” Babilonia said. “It’s not like we are choosing, before we are born … ‘let me be gay or let me be trans.’ It is not a choice. No one wants to choose to be oppressed. And I feel like that is important for our community to realize.”
Newly elected executive board President Analia Santana explained that she feels that the comments do not align with the Manhattan College community.
“As a Catholic, queer person …this is a lot to be like, ‘this school cares more about left-wing political agendas, [than] it does God’ … because I don’t think that’s true as a school,” Santana said. “I think the school is doing stuff that’s … within the Catholic agenda, but also our school has values of being just and fair to all people and … a zero tolerance for hate is a part of the Lasallian values.”
In her first week as President, Santana was faced with the task of leading the club through this crisis and navigating her own personal fear.
“… We took a little while to … really calm down and … make sure that … if there were people who saw this flyer, they didn’t come out and try to attack us. What I was more afraid of was that we weren’t like balls to the walls …We don’t know who … this person knows and they could potentially come after us,” Santana said.
Several days after the incident, the executive board released a statement on their Instagram @mc_LGBTQ. The club made it clear that they, “Do not tolerate any forms of hate or discrimination towards any group(s) of people regardless of their gender, race, class, religion, or sexual orientation,” according to the post.
The post also highlighted the “Importance of upholding the Lasallian values of respect for all people and an inclusive community”. The post went on to thank the passerby for bringing the flyer to the club’s attention and stated that the club is open to dialogue regarding resources for LGBTQ+ members of the college.
Santana explained why they chose to post on Instagram rather than responding in another way.
“There was a little bit of fear in me of, ‘how do we address this properly?’ I was like, we’re not going to do an email [because] I think that makes a mountain out of a molehill. It was one flyer, so let’s just do an Instagram post,” Santana said.
The club’s advisors, Rocco Marinaccio, Ph.D., and Tiffany French were the ones who alerted the Dean of Students about the incident. While they both mentioned that they personally had experienced small incidents of homophobia on campus, they were adamant that an incident like this is not the norm.
“I don’t regard [campus] in any way as a dominantly, homophobic atmosphere,” Marinaccio said. “But as any queer person knows, homophobia exists in the most tolerant places.”
French echoed those statements and noted that despite this attack, she is encouraged by the strides they are making on campus. Currently, they have been able to push for new gender-inclusive policies, such as the recently launched Chosen Name, Chosen Gender policy. They also launched an employee resource group and will be conducting a LGBTQ Climate Survey in the near future.
She explained that they have received a good response of support from the Dean of Students.
“The dean of student’s office is the official vehicle to [hold each other accountable].…I would say that the best type of community we could have is a space where everybody can be themselves,” French said. “Even if those things are sometimes difficult to reconcile with one another, we might have different positions on things, but we can be respectful and civil. That’s aligned with our mission.”
The Office of Public Safety and the Office of the Dean of Students opened an investigation immediately after the act of hate was reported. Both offices work in conjunction during an investigation as the Office of Public Safety conducts and tracks the case and the Office of the Dean of Students is responsible for sanctioning the perpetrator.
When asked about the investigation, Dean of Students Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, Ph.D., was adamant that this incident is not welcomed on campus.
“We’re addressing the community to make sure that we really bring home the fact that there is no room for hate on this campus,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. There’s zero tolerance for any situation where you’re targeting a particular group. It’s not going to work at Manhattan College.”
She explained how the investigation process varies greatly depending on the nature of the offense that has taken place and that bias incidents are typically more complicated to investigate.
“If you have a situation that’s public, the victimology of course is different. You’re going to be impacted, whoever saw that, whoever found that. Our public spaces ought to be safe spaces … we want to be able to feel safe and we want to feel the values of a Lasallian campus,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “When we look at bias incidences, we’re looking at targeted incidences that would not have occurred, except for … trying to use that person’s identity to hurt. We want to be able to educate everyone as to why it’s not tolerated.”
She also noted that the school has an annual Clery report that tracks and reports campus crime data. She explained how vital these reports are in determining crime trends within the community.
“It allows us to gauge, ‘Is this a pattern? Is this an isolated incident? Is this something that escalates over time?’,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “Part of what the administration has to think about is continuity. Even if we don’t find …the perpetrator, it will still be informative for us in terms of making sure that we don’t have an escalating issue.” Abreu-Hornbostel said.
Abreu-Hornbostel disclosed that this incident does not seem to be a part of a trend. The investigation is still ongoing and they are monitoring it closely. She asks that if anybody knows anything about the incident to please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, students can reach out to email@example.com with any concerns regarding another student’s wellbeing.
As the vandalism appears to be partly motivated by religion, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Ph.D, the chair of the religious studies department and fervent advocate for LGTBQ+ inclusion in the Catholic Church, debunked misconceptions regarding Catholicism and the LGBTQ+ community. She also explained that the religiously charged language does not align with Catholic or Lasallian teachings.
“Of course, a lot of people think that being Catholic means that you’re not allowed to be gay. This is doctrinally false, for several reasons,” Imperatori-Lee said. “Catholic Social Teaching is not a left-wing, or right wing agenda. It’s just what the Church teaches about living in the world. The cornerstone of that is human dignity.”
Imperatori-Lee acknowledged the root of some doctrinal misconceptions that may cause confusion. While the Catholic Church does not sacramentally bless same-sex marriages, the Catholic Catechism provides guidelines on how Catholics should treat the LGBTQ+ community.
“The Catholic Catechism … says that all Catholics are to treat LGBTQ persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” Imperatori-Lee said. “It means respecting people’s names and pronouns, how they choose to present themselves in the world. You can certainly never say it is in contradiction to God. In part, because we don’t fully understand God but also because God loves all human beings exactly as they are.”
However, Imperatori-Lee acknowledged that while the Catholic Church has not always welcomed the LGBTQ+ and other minority communities, there are small steps being taken toward a more inclusive Church.
“Now, the Church has said awful things about gay people in the past. And because the Church is a community of people in history, it continues to grow in understanding of what it is that God wants,” Imperatori-Lee said.
In the past week, Catholic LGBTQ+ activists achieved a major win as Pope Francis denounced laws that criminalize “same-sex activity and identity.” This win has been long awaited by LGBTQ Catholics, especially for those who live in places where being gay is illegal.
Imperatori-Lee explained that this is a huge step for the Catholic Church that will positively impact millions of people around the world.
“There are things that the Pope could say, that don’t require any doctrinal change, but would make big differences to people’s day to day lives,” Imperatori-Lee said. He’s just saying that persecuting people for who they are is a sin.”
Babilonia criticized those that use these religious misinterpretations as a way to attack others.
“Not that religion is a problem, but that they are using that religion, and promoting hate speech and discrimination against other people simply for who they are,” Babilonia said. “It is not that we are trying to harm anyone because of our identities. It is literally just, we exist, we are just living our lives the same way that straight people and cisgender people are living their lives.”
Babilonia ended their interview by encouraging kindness and emphasizing how important the Rainbow Jaspers is for the Manhattan College community. The club serves as a way to include and unite the LGBTQ+ community of the school and to welcome and educate allies.
“We must all respect each other, regardless of our identities, and regardless of our differences … it does not matter, because we are all human at the end of the day … It’s important to love people who are not the exact same and it’s important to actually value people as a person,” Babilonia said.
The Quadrangle will continue to monitor the investigation.