A gay former student and former staff member at D.C.’s Catholic University of America sent a petition on Monday to the university’s president, John Garvey, calling on him to issue a statement supporting the June 15 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination under federal law.
The petition, written and emailed to Garvey by Nickolas R. Atlas Jr., includes the signatures from 105 people from throughout the country, including from the D.C. area.
Atlas says he worked in administrative positions at Catholic University from 2012-2019. He received his bachelor’s degree from Catholic University in history in 2012 and a master’s also in history from the school in 2017.
“Recently the United States Supreme Court has made two landmark rulings,” Atlas’s petition states. “1) Federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination and 2) DACA protections will be upheld,” it says.
The petition was referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling, handed down three days after its pro-LGBTQ ruling, blocking the Trump administration from immediately dismantling an Obama administration immigration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has protected more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from being deported.
Atlas’s petition states that Catholic University issued a statement supporting the DACA decision but has remained silent on the landmark LGBTQ decision, which holds that the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination under its Title VII provision banning discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender.
“CUA has a long history of not supporting the LGBTQ+ community, which includes students, staff and faculty,” the petition says. “The choice to not comment on this landmark ruling is yet another example of the lack of support,” it says.
“On behalf of CUA, President John Garvey should make a statement supporting this landmark ruling and how being THE Catholic University of America supports the rights of those who identify in the sexual minority,” the petition concludes.
Karna Lozoya, Catholic University’s executive director of strategic communications, told the Washington Blade, in response to a request for comment, that the university was preparing a response to Atlas’s petition and she expected it would be released soon.
Garvey, an attorney specializing in constitutional law, religious liberty, and First Amendment issues, has taught law at the University of Kentucky and the University of Notre Dame before serving as dean of the Boston College of Law from 1999 to 2010, according to background on Garvey posted on the Catholic University website.
He began his tenure as Catholic University president in July 2010, the website says.
In a two-page June 29 letter that Atlas sent to Garvey that accompanied the petition, Atlas says that at the time he was a Catholic University student Garvey “continuously denied students the right to form an official group dedicated to those in the sexual minority” and that sexual minority students faced discrimination.
“Several years ago, Georgetown University revised its policy on LGBTQ+ students in favor of providing them protection and equal rights after several violent incidents took place on campus,” Atlas states in his letter. “At the same time this happened, you still refused to allow CUA a formally recognized LGBTQ+ student group despite the possibility of a similar situation happening at CUA,” the letter says.
Atlas said he sent copies of his letter and petition to Garvey to Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who Pope Francis appointed as the head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in April 2019. In his role as head of the D.C. Archdiocese Gregory also serves as the Chancellor of Catholic University.
It couldn’t immediately be determined whether Gregory, who has expressed support for LGBTQ people and has met with LGBTQ Catholics and their families, might call on Garvey to consider Atlas’s petition request. Pope Francis has also made supportive statements about LGBTQ people and has welcomed LGBTQ Catholics into the fold of the church.
“As a pontifical university, CUA should pay close attention to what our Holy Father says about the LGBTQ+ community,” Atlas says in his letter to Garvey. “I truly doubt Pope Francis would prevent university students from formally organizing a student group and would voice his support for faculty and staff in the sexual minority,” the letter states.
“I cannot speak for all those who are in the CUA sexual minority community, but we are not asking CUA to voice its support for gay marriage or anything of the like,” the letter continues. “All we want is to know that we belong, we are loved, and we are supported for being a child of God at The Catholic University of America,” Atlas states in the letter.
“A simple statement saying the university supports the Supreme Court ruling and will make an effort to support its LGBTQ+ students and employees will go a long way,” the letter concludes.
The Blade will update this story to include any statement Catholic University or its president, John Garvey, may release in response to Atlas’s letter and petition.