An out gay student who serves as secretary of Georgetown University’s LGBT campus group, GU Pride, and as vice chair of the D.C. Federation of College Republicans is running in a hotly contested race for student president at Georgetown.
Junior Tim Rosenberger — an English major, practicing Lutheran and gay Republican activist — is among six candidates competing for the post of president of the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) in an election scheduled for Feb. 19.
If successful, Rosenberger would become the second out gay man to win election as Student Association president at Georgetown in the past two years. In February 2013 School of Foreign Service student Nate Tisa won his race for student president, becoming the first open gay to win election as class president at Georgetown and one of the first out gays to win such an election at a major Jesuit university in the United States.
“I think I can make Georgetown more supportive and fairer for all students,” Rosenberger told the Washington Blade in an interview this week. “I want to see everyone, even people who don’t fit the very traditional Catholic mold, do well here and succeed.”
Similar to the other candidates, Rosenberger and his vice presidential running mate, junior Reno Varghese, have set up a campaign Facebook page that includes a detailed platform outlining their proposals on a wide range of student and campus related issues at timandreno.com.
The two adopted the campaign slogan, “For the Love of Georgetown.”
Tisa and Rosenberger said they are aware of Georgetown University’s dramatic transformation from its reputation in the 1980s as a conservative school that refused to recognize and provide meeting space for a campus gay group, prompting the group to file a successful discrimination lawsuit against the university.
The two said they believe Georgetown’s administration and the majority of its student body have since become welcoming and supportive toward LGBT students. In addition to welcoming LGBT student groups, Georgetown recently became one of the first Catholic colleges to open a campus LGBTQ Resource Center with a full-time paid director.
According to Tisa, these changes created an atmosphere making it possible for him to win election as class president as an out gay man. He said he believes Rosenberger will win or lose his race on non-LGBT issues.
But he said anti-gay sentiment remains among some of the school’s students who come from a conservative Catholic background. Instances of homophobia surfaced in his campaign for class president, Tisa said, and he notes that at least one episode of anti-gay bias appears to have surfaced against Rosenberger.
A conservative online Catholic publication called Pewsitter published an article on Jan. 26 quoting extensively from a Georgetown student identifying herself as ‘Jane Hoya’ who denounced Rosenberger, among other things, as a “militant homosexual activist/Catholic/Republican.”
Rosenberger said that while the anonymous student incorrectly identified him as a Catholic, she apparently did her homework and correctly noted his role as a Republican activist who strongly supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage and who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Georgetown College Republicans to endorse marriage equality.
He said he withdrew from his earlier role as a board member of the Georgetown College Republicans after the group refused to consider his proposed resolution of support for same-sex marriage.
In her comments in the Pewsitter article, ‘Jane Hoya’ also points out that Rosenberger works part-time at the D.C. gay dance club Town and hangs out with a ‘priest’ who performs as a drag queen. Rosenberger said he’s proud to work weekend evenings at Town as a cashier in the admissions booth. He said the priest in drag is an apparent reference to popular drag performer David “Lena” Lett, who is an ordained priest with an offshoot Catholic denomination that’s not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
While criticizing Rosenberger, the article quotes ‘Jane Hoya’ as urging students to vote for one of Rosenberger’s opponents, Abbey McNaughton, whom ‘Hoya’ describes as a “faithful Catholic committed to protecting Georgetown’s legacy as the oldest Catholic university in America.”
McNaughton, who’s active with the College Republicans of Georgetown, told the Blade in an email that neither she, her vice presidential running mate, nor any of her supporters were contacted by the Pewsitter publication in connection with the article attacking Rosenberger.
“The accusations regarding Tim are hideous and malicious, especially towards an individual who is simply trying to serve Georgetown University,” she said. “We honor his commitment to service, and truly believe that he is a competent student leader and candidate.”
McNaughton said the article also mischaracterized her campaign positions, saying her supporters “come from every corner and group on campus and every different ideological tradition present at Georgetown.”
Tisa said candidates running for election to student government offices at Georgetown traditionally have not used attack ads or negative campaigning.
Under longstanding election rules for the GUSA, the campaign for student president and vice president is restricted to an intense two-week period in February. Campaign spending is limited to $300, which candidates have mostly used to print and distribute fliers throughout campus.
Candidates for president and vice president run on the same ticket, and the voting is conducted by an email ballot sent to each of the school’s more than 7,000 undergraduate students. The voting includes an instant run-off system in which student voters designate candidates as their first through fifth choice.
Rosenberger, a native of Cleveland, said his Christian faith is an important part of his life. He said he regularly attends services at the Georgetown Lutheran Church and in the past has taught Sunday school there.
His LinkedIn page says he has served as a ministry and operations intern at the church since January 2013. He also states on LinkedIn that he served from August 2013 to January 2014 as an intern in the office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.).
Among those endorsing him in his race for class president is Thomas Lloyd, president of GU Pride.
Asked how he would respond to critics who might accuse him of seeking to use the role of class president as a platform to advance homosexual rights, Rosenberger said his record of involvement in a broad range of issues on campus demonstrates he would work for the interests of all students.
“I think that as a gay student on campus I understand the needs of a lot of groups that have sort of been marginalized here,” he said. “I think I would use the presidency as a platform for many of those groups. And I think it really would become a presidency that serves groups that have been on the fringes of campus for some time,” he said.
“And so, no, I think being gay I definitely will be a more effective ally to many students on campus,” Rosenberger said.
In addition to McNaughton, the other candidates competing for class president are Chris Wadibia, Joe Luther, Mike Minahan, and Sara Margolis. All are juniors in the graduating class of 2016.