October 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm EDT | by guest columnist
Standing guard and protecting equality
Catholic University, gay news, Washington Blade

Catholic University (Photo by Gryffindor; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)


For the better part of 20 years, the District of Columbia’s LGBT community has had advocates and defenders on the D.C. Council. Come January that reality may all change when Jim Graham and David Catania are no longer on our city’s Council. The recent controversy that has ensued over a film screening of the Harvey Milk story at Catholic University should serve as a reminder to everyone who believes in fairness and inclusion that we need strong LGBT leaders to stand up and represent these views on the Council.

You’ve read about this story time and again. The forces against equality are never silent for long, whether it is Fred Phelps and his army of hate, or people committing hate crimes against innocents like Matthew Shepard or James Byrd or a religious institution of higher education excluding students from discussing the struggle for LGBT rights in America. Given the amazing progress we have made to ensure that D.C.’s vibrant LGBT community is respected and valued here it is easy to think we have moved past such eruptions of intolerance in the District.

However, Catholic University sent a clear reminder that we have not. Bayard Rustin, Barbara Jordan, Harvey Milk and Frank Kamney all made amazing contributions to helping this country live up to what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the true meaning of its creed” — equal rights for all — gay and straight, black and white, Jew and Gentile.

Now the leadership at Catholic University, which receives taxpayer funds, is fighting the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014. This legislation would simply require all colleges and universities in the District to treat student groups equally. Seems fair to me. Yet, the administrators at Catholic have chosen discrimination over equality and freedom, to move backward instead of forward, together — all because some students on its campus wish to explore the life’s work of an LGBT elected official and activist, Harvey Milk.

Over the course of my professional life, I have learned an important lesson — if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. Well, come January, the LGBT community may find itself being served up, with no one, who personally has been impacted by its struggle in the most personal way, there to prevent it.

The District is changing in many ways, mostly for the better, but this incident is a reminder that we must have a Council that is representative of all citizens. Having native Washingtonians on the Council matters because so many of us feel as if we are being left behind. Having parents on the D.C. Council matters because the laws passed by this body have a direct impact on our children and their ability to thrive. And, yes, having an openly gay member of the Council matters because without one we are in jeopardy of not having a fighter standing guard when discrimination rears its ugly head. I am proud to be all three.

Catholic University has been a pillar of the District and educated many of our citizens. I expect it will play a strong role in our future, but it must be a source of pride, not embarrassment in an era of inclusivity. The District has fought for too long to be inclusive of all of our citizens to let any of our institutions backslide now. Our city has already made its choice when it comes to equal treatment for all. It is now up to Catholic University to choose fairness and equality over fear and discrimination.

Courtney R. Snowden is a principal at The Raben Group and a candidate for D.C. Council At-Large.

  • A seat at the table for the LGBT community is essential. We cannot undermine the significant progress that has been made towards a totally inclusive, progressive policy framework for the nation's capital.

  • wy in the F are we using taxpayer money to support any religious instittuion?

    at least when catholic churches refused to allow gays to adopt in several states they got a well deserved kick in their butts with no more $$ for their adoption agencies

    Want to discriminate – use your own dirty money

  • Why would any gay person still be Catholic?

    • Steven, I very much appreciate your perspective. But others have their own beliefs and lives — often separate and apart from their sexual orientation.
      I think the answer to your question is as varied as the lives of Catholics you question (or members of any other religion with predominantly homophobic leadership). Much depends on how they choose to balance their lives with their religious beliefs, practices and usage — maybe even how they view their life missions.
      Moreover, to me anyway, it appears too much like blaming the victim to suggest CUA’s Catholic LGBTs personally abandon Catholicism because CUA’s current leadership is encouraging prejudice and anti-LGBT bigotry against them.
      From some aggrieved students’ perspectives, it is the leadership of CUA who are the frauds. The tools of CUA’s latter day, Jim Crow harassment range from administrative harassment (like abruptly canceling a LGBT-related film) to theological gibberish to mask their very un-Christian hate.
      Irrespective of students or faculty members’ religious beliefs — or non-beliefs, *ALL* LGBT students and faculty of a DC licensed education facility deserve to be treated fairly — without demonization and hate-mongering.
      CUA must fully comply with DC civil rights law, or it deserves no more civic respect than a whites-only/ WASP-only institution would merit in the District of Columbia.
      But hey, even non-believing students at CUA may believe they can save soles from trotting off to Mass every day.
      Glad to see you here, btw.

  • Many thanks to the Blade for its drill-down coverage of Catholic University’s ongoing quiet harassments against its LGBT students and its assault on DC’s LGBT civil rights protections…
    Thanks to Courtney Snowden’s commentary herein, for also highlighting Catholic University’s stealthy assaults on LGBT people and LGBT civil rights, both on and off CUA’s NE DC campus. (Better than thanking her, let’s vote Courtney on to the City Council.)
    Many thanks as well to Rick Rosendall and Bob Summersgill for their testimony before Council last week, and to GLAA Forum…
    …for exposing CUA’s outrageous attempt to keep as part of the DC Code — apparently for more CUA assaults on LGBT people and their rights — the Jim Crow-like “Armstrong Amendment” — which was forced upon DC (through a ‘do-it-or-shut-down’ appropriation maneuver) 25 years ago by bigots in Congress.
    As Bob Summersgill noted in his testimony on September 29th,
    “The Armstrong Amendment is not a legitimate protection of religious practice. It was forced on the D.C. Council, and serves no purpose but to belittle gay and lesbian people.”
    Finally, let’s applaud and support CUA students, faculty and alums themselves who are, directly and indirectly, shining a bright light on Catholic University’s persistent assaults on the free speech and free expression of LGBT people and LGBT civil rights, both on and off CUA’s NE DC campus.
    CUA College Democrats, CUAllies and LIFT CUA are organizations fighting for the free speech/ free expression of all CUA students and faculty. They deserve our support and gratitude.

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