How Catholic University’s Gay Student Group Survives Without Talking Marriage, Sex, or Politics
Last week, the Washington Post profiled Catholic University's very unofficial gay group, CUAllies. The group, whose mission is "Making Catholic U Safer for GLBTQ Students," was denied official student group status last summer. According to Catholic U. spokesperson Victor Nakas, recognizing the group would have forced the university to support "positions contrary to church teachings." His proof that CUAllies is anti-Catholic on its face? "What else could be their purpose?" Nakas submits.
Despite the snub, CUAllies has carefully attempted to conform its advocacy work to the teachings of the Catholic church. The Post story notes that CUAllies has formulated a "self-imposed list of topics that are off-limits: pre-marital sex, gay sex, birth control, gay marriage and behavior not permitted by the Catholic church." With sex, marriage, and "behavior" off the table, what can CUAllies talk about?
Catholic University senior Robby Diesu, one of the group's founders, explains how to cultivate an LGBT group while keeping it Catholic: Avoid "advocacy," distract administrators from the dreaded combination of gays and food, and invent some clever condom wordplay.
"The three goals of CUAllies are to make Catholic U. a safe, welcoming, and affirming place for GLBTQ peoples," Diseu wrote to me. The purpose of CUAllies is hardly controversial: The group is devoted to preventing gay-bashings, providing some visibility for gay students on campus, and affirming the "dignity of the human person" for gay and straight students alike. Diseu insists that the group's goal is "not to change the Church," but rather to find a safe space within church teachings for LGBT students. In order to make life at Catholic University better for CUA's LGBTs, Diseu has found that it benefits the group to keep quiet on the political front. "We as a group do not have an official position on issues like gay marriage or birth control, so the group never diverges with the administration on those types of issues," he writes.
CUAllies has reason to step carefully: The group was formed in the aftermath of Catholic University's first gay-straight alliance, which ultimately conceded to university pressure. The first iteration of the CUA gay group, the Organization for Lesbian and Gay Student Rights, operated as an official student organization from 1988 until several years ago, when "the group was forced to dissolve . . . because it became an advocacy group," Nakas told the Post. "The university has chosen not to go down that path again," Nakas said.
Diseu says that CUAllies' strictly apolitical activities are an attempt to avoid the dreaded accusation of "advocacy." "The reason why we have 'self-imposed' off-limits topics is to show the ridiculous nature of the fact that Catholic is refusing us official status as a group," Diseu writes. But no matter how much CUAllies members censor themselves, Catholic University will always raise the bar for inclusion: "Their definition of advocacy is to have food at your meetings or wanting to talk about hate crimes! Ahh the horror!!" According to Diseu, Catholic's former gay group was hardly controversial. "They were having food at their meetings, and if the gays have food you know what happens. . . . The school put a stranglehold on the group, and we were not going to let them do that to us." (Despite the evident controversy of gays serving food, Diseu says CUAllies does have refreshments at meetings).
Besides fighting off dissolution, what can CUAllies do? Plenty, as long as they frame it right. "We went to the National Equality March as a group because we support full equality for all people," Diseu writes. "In the spring we are having a 3-week series on GLBTQ health and safety and we have a whole week set aside to talk about HIV/AIDS." Diseu says that last subject may take a little bit of verbal acrobatics. "It's basically a word game, we find the loopholes and use them to our advantages," he writes. "Will we talk about condoms? Most likely. But will we directly say, 'When you have sex, use a condom'? No. It will more likely be, 'One of the ways to prevent getting HIV/AIDS is to use a condom.'"