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No LGBT group at Catholic U.

Announcement follows Notre Dame move to recognize similar org

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Catholic University, CUAllies, Ryan Fecteau, gay news, Washington Blade
Catholic University, CUAllies, Ryan Fecteau, gay news, Washington Blade

Ryan Fecteau spearheaded efforts to prompt Catholic University officials to recognize CUAllies. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Fecteau)

Catholic University of America announced last week it would not officially recognize an LGBT student organization.

Ryan Fecteau, a junior who is the first openly gay speaker of the D.C. campus’ Student Association General Assembly, told the Washington Blade that CUAllies submitted its proposal for formal recognition to administrators on Feb. 21. Dean of Students Jonathan Sawyer and Katie Jennings, director of campus activities, told Fecteau, who spearheaded the effort, in a Dec. 6 meeting the university had denied CUAllies’ request “out of fear that they would become an advocacy organization.”

“It is unfortunate the Catholic University of America is not providing space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning of whatever to feel they are welcomed into the faith community on campus,” Fecteau said.

The university, which denied to officially recognize the group after it formed in 2009, told the Blade in a statement the two administrators who met with Fecteau “expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful and respectful way in which CUAllies had pursued its request for recognition.” According to the statement, the goal “articulated by CUAllies of fostering a safe and welcoming environment for all students is shared by the university.”

Catholic University President John Garvey on Dec. 6 met with 15 student leaders and seven administrators to “engage in dialogue with them on that topic and to share ideas about how the university can better demonstrate its support for all students, whether they identify themselves as heterosexual, gay or lesbian.” Fecteau stressed to the Blade that CUAllies did not discuss marriage rights for same-sex couples in their petition for formal recognition.

“In declining the request for official university recognition of CUAllies, the administrators indicated their belief that, in spite of the group’s stated intent to uphold Catholic Church teachings, it would be extremely difficult for that pledge to be honored over time,” the university’s statement read. “They pointed out that there is a fine line, easily crossed, between a group dedicated to education and support of individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals and one that engages in advocacy on behalf of a homosexual lifestyle.”

Catholic University’s decision to not recognize CUAllies came 24 hours after University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins accepted recommendations from the school’s Office of Student Affairs to expand support to LGBT and questioning students. This decision will include formally recognizing an LGBT student group as an on-campus organization.

“A lot of people were very, very shocked and I think that’s a very good thing,” Alex Coccia, a junior Africana and peace studies major at Notre Dame who prompted the effort, told the Blade. “It was definitely something that not many people were expecting.”

A handful of other Catholic universities have LGBT-specific clubs, student affairs offices and even resource centers. These include Georgetown University in D.C. and Loyola and DePaul Universities in Chicago.

“Despite the contradictory decisions announced last week, it is undeniable that progress is being made on religiously affiliated campuses across the country,” Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement released after Catholic University administrators announced they would not formally recognize CUAllies. “Students at the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, among others, are doing incredible work to make higher education a more inclusive place for all. Campus Pride has worked over the years to assist these students and alumni to continually push forward and we are very proud to support them. We call on the Catholic University of America to recognize the value of these students’ efforts and the importance of ensuring their academic success, support, and safety on campus.”

Coccia also criticized the D.C. university’s decision.

“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “[CUAllies] essentially has the same purpose as what our group was and what the organization will be.”

As for CUAllies, Fecteau said the group and university officials have agreed to continue to discuss the possibility of formal recognition.

“We’re going to continue to have these conversations,” he said.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Barrie Daneker

    December 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    The way to make change is via the Board and Alumni Association. By gaining Board member support and getting big $$$ donors to support a CUAllies group, it will put pressure on President Garvey and Dean Sawyer to finally agree. It’s time that CUA get with the program! There are many avenues to use. Pick campus, pick the Basilica, show the university that this decision can have negative consequences for the pocket of the university and the church and things will change.

  2. Anonymous

    December 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Two lessons:

    First, if you are LGBTQ, do not attend a Catholic school.

    Second, when Catholic University says they want to foster "a safe and welcoming environment for all students," they are lying.

    • Ryan Fecteau

      December 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      For those of us who are Catholic and who identify as LGBT, we must not remove ourselves from the flock; to do so suggests that we do not belong. The truth is that LGBT people have a place amongst the flock just as anyone else does… And that's why I am proud to attend Catholic University and to be engaged in this conversation with the administration.

    • Tim MacGeorge

      December 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      As an alumnus of The Catholic University of America (CUA/NCSSS '98) and someone who also happens to be an ordained priest, I just want to express support for Ryan, CUAllies, and for the hope that one day this flagship institution of the Catholic Church in the US might fully welcome all God's children — including God's LGBT children — into the full life of the University.

  3. Thomas J Wieczorek

    December 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    As a Catholic, I am continually challenged, not by my spiritual faith, but by the leadership of the church. It saddens me beyond belief to see other faiths openly embracing LGBT at Pride Festivals which I have attended or other events while the Catholic Church is noticably absent. I only wish the Catholic Church could recognize the potential harm they do by demanding things that even priests have not been able to meet. Having studied for ordination, celibacy was a gift from God to which not all are called. Yet the church demands that LGBT individuals adopt this gift whether it is given or not. It would seem that after the damage that has come to light from expecting a "gift" to be forced, the leadership would recognize this fact and embrace the beauty we all are unique but still created in God's image. This denial is not so surprising, particularly given the vocal and financial zeal by the diocese and heiarchy to defeating any effort of LGBT marriage. Good luch and best wishes Ryan; I'm not sure I would be as optimistic.

    • Ryan Fecteau

      December 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      Thank you for your support. As I keep on saying to friends and folks who ask, "Why bother?" The change that our Church needs will not happen unless we are at the table to demand the change. The funny thing is we are not even really asking for change… The Church has long accepted LGBT people as innately LGBT. The Church's sexual teachings, of course, conflict with gay sex. But our group and our message was not about creating a space for meeting "hook-ups" nor was it to advocate for gay marriage. We want to create a space for fellowship and a space that is without question welcoming! Lots of work to be done!

  4. brian

    December 20, 2012 at 6:23 am

    First, thanks to Ryan Fecteau and CUAllies for continuing the fight on behalf of LGBT students at CUA. They are continuing the heroic efforts by their undergrad predecessors– which also includes a number of previous attempts by CUA’s Columbus School of Law students to get CUA recognition for a very tame, essentially educational organization– Gay/Straight Student Alliance.

    But given the near rabid bigotry and anti-gay hatred of the current Pope Benedict, I’m not surprised by CUA’s continued failure to honor its LGBT students and faculty with recognition of its LGBT student organization.

    Usually, I would agree with Barrie Daneker’s suggestion that going after this institution’s sources of funding is likely to get CUA’s attention– and more likely to bring needed change by CUA administrators. But in this instance, I think the demands of an outrageously homophobic pope is stronger.

    CUA’s unique ties to the Vatican is more determinative… at least while Benedict is still alive.

    The distinction that sets CUA apart from nearly all other Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S.– such as Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola/Chicago and Notre Dame– is that CUA is a *pontifical* institution– chartered in 1887 by Pope Leo hisself. Accordingly, CUA is far more tightly bound by official Vatican teachings– however bigoted– than administrators at other Catholic schools.

    BTW, CUA’s campus– just by the concentration of its particular educational specialties and schools (Theological College, Speech and Drama, e.g.)– has, IMHO, always skewed a bit higher to a gay student demographic than most other area campuses.

    I’m pretty sure CUA’s (relatively new) President John Garvey and Dean Jon Sawyer are well aware of their large number of LGBT students.

    I know Jon Sawyer and have communicated with him many times. He is so NOT a bigot, nor is he a homophobe. Most of Sawyer’s colleagues, I’m sure, are like him — good, caring professionals, working for an otherwise outstanding university — but very much constrained by its long-standing ties to an out-of-touch Vatican and its bigoted, homophobic pope.

  5. Ted Adcock

    December 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Tm amen!

  6. Bob Rimac

    December 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    My last boyfriend was a Catholic Priest. A large percentage of priests are gay. Banning the LGBT group is just a way of keeping the priests from being outed. This is so sad, because it does so much damage to the students.

    • Ryan Fecteau

      December 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      We much work to do! But they have not discouraged us. We are strong!

  7. Jim Guinnessey

    December 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    As an older post graduate degree holder from CUA, I am continuously embarrassed by the Vatican-inspired assaults on its academic freedom. The Vatican and chronic US episcopate interference and meddling at CUA have become a malignant cancer. A once proud and scholarly institution standing for academic freedom, CUA has now opted with its spurious rejection of its LGBT unit to be no better than the bigoted and third rate schools like Liberty and Bob Jones Universities. I urge all CUA alumni not to give one dime in gifts to CUA until its shakes off its umbilical connections to the US RC episcopate and its demonic opposition to any LGBT causes.

    • Ryan Fecteau

      December 20, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      Thank you for your support! I can tell you that many at CUA have not given up hope… Our convictions and our faith demands that we not stray from the flock and we will not, I promise!

    • Clyde Blassengale Jr.

      December 27, 2012 at 3:15 am

      Ryan, when you say 'not stray from the flock,' is 'the flock Catholics' or LGBT people?

    • Clyde Blassengale Jr.

      December 27, 2012 at 3:15 am

      Ryan, when you say 'not stray from the flock,' is 'the flock Catholics' or LGBT people?

  8. Raul Hernandez

    December 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    The Catholic University leaders should go back where most so-called Catolic leaders now belong, the Stone Age. This is just one more reason I'm not a Catholic any more.

    • Ryan Fecteau

      December 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      We are not going anywhere. CUAllies and our supporters will continue to be at the table!

  9. Charlie Fontana

    December 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    How many times does the catholic church have to slap us in the face before we realize that they don’t want us? It’s an appalling institution from many perspectives, and one can very easily hold any of the beliefs that catholics do without being part of their corrupt, intolerant organization.

    I was born into a catholic family, and I’ve got a sister who’s been a nun for a very long time, but I had a parting of the ways with the pope about the time I hit the age of reason — long before Benedict occupied the throne.

  10. Henry Huot

    December 24, 2012 at 12:23 am

    As an ordained RC diocesan priest who resigned my ministry several years ago after years of prayer, discernment and spiritual direction, and who is still a RC, I continue to strongly believe that Catholic laity have an obligation to speak their truth on matters of morality, gleaned from their lived experience, to the ordained, including their bishops. I am not suggesting a subjectivism that leaves no room for information from magisterial teachings. But there must be an openness to dialogue by all parties, especially on issues where conscientious, faith-filled folk disagree. I think allowance for respectful dissent must be defended as an option, without the dissenters made to feel that they are being run out of the community of the Church. CUAllies should be applauded because, as LGBTQ students, some of whom may very well dissent from the magisterial teaching on homosexual lifestyle, they are lobbying respectfully for acceptance, and I might add, freedom of conscience. Or do the bishops no longer believe in it?

  11. Thomas Nowacki

    January 5, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I am too a Catholic lifelong the church always refereed new ideas but they as deny their own his when they allowed LGBT or the fact the God they worship is a LGBT. Look at the Laws of the church and see the rules that allow lbgt.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington opens new center in Dupont Circle

Proceeds from sale of old building used to expand programming

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Dignity Washington President Tom Yates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The local LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity Washington recently opened its new Dignity Center office and community meeting space at a Dupont Circle condominium building that includes first-floor offices for small businesses and community organizations.

Dignity Washington President Tom Yates said the new space at the Imperial House condominium building at 1601 18th Street, N.W., is currently being used as Dignity’s office headquarters and for meetings of the group’s board and committees. He said as COVID-related restrictions are relaxed the space will be used for various events and possible use by other LGBTQ community organizations.

Yates said the group purchased the 1,700-square-foot office space in March of this year, eight months after selling its former Dignity Center building at 721 8th St., S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill. Dignity officials have said the Capitol Hill building was larger than the space the group needed and the proceeds from its sale would provide funds to expand its programs.

“Dignity Washington, making use of the fiscal support made possible by the change of properties, hopes to become more active speaking truth to power of the Catholic Church,” Yates told the Blade. “The new facility is only a handful of blocks from the Cathedral of St. Matthew,” he said, referring to one of the city’s largest Catholic churches.

Noting the Catholic Church’s historic lack of support for the LGBTQ community, Yates said the proximity of the new Dignity Center would help the group’s mission of showing “the local same-sex community that one can be both Catholic and same-sex loving.” 

Yates said Dignity Washington, founded in 1972, is the largest chapter of the national LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity USA. 

Dignity Washington, among other things, organizes a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for LGBTQ Catholics and their friends and families at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church at 1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

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In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years

Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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