Catholicism has not traditionally been seen as a home for the LGBTQ community. Even after considering Pope Francis’ more progressive views in recent years, the tradition of the Catholic Church has largely been viewed in opposition to those who are gay or transgender.
These ideas often extend to religiously affiliated colleges and universities. Many times, LGBTQ students struggle to find acceptance at these institutions, causing discomfort when they attempt to consolidate their identity with their faith. While there are resources and networks, such as Campus Pride in Faith, available to help LGBTQ students on religiously affiliated campuses, anti-LGBTQ teachings within religious institutions can make for a harsh learning environment.
However, this does not always have to be the case. For many people, their faith affirms their identity and creates a balance that lends itself to a healthy and happy life. At Loyola University in Baltimore, Md., Catholic and queer identities come together in a unique way in the university’s LGBTQ student organization, called Spectrum. This year, the organization celebrates 20 years on campus, a fact that may seem surprising to an outsider only familiar with anti-LGBTQ religious conservatives.
“For the longest time I tried to reconcile being Catholic and gay,” says Kevin Dietz, an alum of Loyola University who helped found the student group in 1995 that would become Spectrum. “In a sense, being a student at Loyola helped me reconcile my Catholic identity and my gay identity. I’m proud of all aspects of [who I am] — gay and Catholic.”
Spectrum was not the first LGBTQ student organization to form on Loyola’s campus. Dietz mentioned that several years before Spectrum, another group was formed but was not successful. When Spectrum began with only three student members, it could have met a similar fate. However, strong leadership and shifting cultural values helped solidify Spectrum’s place on campus.
At Loyola University in Baltimore, Md., Catholic and queer identities come together in a unique way in the university’s LGBTQ student organization, called Spectrum.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was easy to expect the negative. I thought that maybe some of our campus fliers would be torn down or defaced, but nothing negative happened,” Dietz says. “Staff and students were very supportive. Even the religious leaders … at Loyola were supportive.”
Since 1995, Spectrum has witnessed positive growth for the Loyola community. In 2012, it joined 10 other religiously affiliated universities in a letter campaign that highlighted the benefits of LGBTQ inclusion to bishops, dioceses, and school administrators, focusing on how they can increase cooperation with and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Today, the organization continues to create inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students on campus. It hosts social gatherings and educational events, and provides outreach services and community advocacy programs throughout the school year for its members and the larger Loyola community.
“Many groups on campus partner with us for events, including the Campus Ministry,” says Charmaine Bondoc, one of the current co-presidents of Spectrum. “Last semester, Campus Ministry funded the registration and transportation of several of our members [so they could] go to the Ignatian Q [conference] at Georgetown University.”
While many in the Loyola community are accepting and supportive of Spectrum, Bondoc pointed out that some still struggle with the organization’s presence.
“There is a lot of support for this group on campus, but that’s not to say that the history hasn’t been a tumultuous one,” she says. “While some other clubs like partnering with us in order to have an informational session on different aspects of the LGBTQ community, [and] the Loyola community as a whole has accepted our existence, there’s been a lot of complacency. Nonetheless, I think the days of outright hatred are over.”
This has not stopped the group from making gains and aiming higher. Spectrum’s goals include further expanding Loyola’s Safe Zone Training, which was previously only open to faculty, staff, and administrators, but was recently expanded to orientation leaders. The group also hopes to create a physical space on campus with hired staff trained specifically on LGBTQ issues and student needs.
Spectrum has had a long history on Loyola’s campus, and current students and alumni are hoping for a long, bright future.
“As someone who hasn’t been a student for a long time, I can say that my main hope is that it continues for 20 or more years. The LGBTQ community has a voice at Loyola. They have a sense of community,” says Dietz. “All incoming students will know that they have a group of people with whom they can have an instant connection. Thousands of students didn’t have that sense of community before Spectrum started, and it’s a very satisfying feeling to know that I helped start that community at Loyola.”
Spectrum has done an outstanding job of creating a welcoming and accepting space for LGBTQ communities on Loyola’s campus. All LGBTQ students, despite their personal faith or the type of college or university they attend, have specific needs that must be met for them to have a successful education. For the past 20 years, countless students have gotten the support they need from Spectrum.
“I think that no matter your religious background, or lack thereof, it’s important to have social and educational support. Whether someone is just coming out or has been out, to know that there is a group on campus [in which] there are people like you can provide needed support and encouragement,” Dietz says. “The fact that an LGBTQ group [was] started on a small Catholic campus 20 years ago shows just how supportive and encouraging an environment Loyola was, and still is.”●
Shane Windmeyer is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board, and Campus Pride is a partner of INSIGHT Into Diversity. To learn more about Campus Pride or for more information about being LGBTQ on a religiously affiliated campus, visit campuspride.org. Special thanks to Allison Marie Turner for writing assistance.