Is Being Gay at Saint Leo Safe?

Nearly two years ago, Rutgers freshmen Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate outed him on the Internet by broadcasting his encounter with another man on the Internet for all to see. This sent a blaze in the media and across college campuses about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students. This affected me greatly as an openly gay student at a Catholic institution. I wondered if this could happen on the Saint Leo University campus.

Saint Leo University is an institution that was founded by the Catholic faith and instilled Benedictine values within our community. The Catholic faith believes that homosexuality is a sin against natural life and that it is not to be tolerated by the Church. However, our core values of Community and Respect state that we foster a spirit of belonging, unity and interdependence based on mutual trust and respect to create socially responsible environments. Our community strength depends on the unity and diversity of our people, on the free exchange of ideas and on learning, living, and working harmoniously. Many different ethnicities and faiths are welcomed with open arms to our University.  For example, Jewish students are permitted to attend our university. But, what about our gay population on campus?

There are a number of gay and lesbian students on campus. How do they feel? Do they feel they have been treated fairly among the administration and their peers? Do they feel they are accepted by straight students? Do they feel these students are allies in this fight for equality or do they feel the opposite?

The answer is overwhelmingly mixed. There are several gay and lesbian students on campus, however, most did not wish to comment to the Lions’ Pride. However, a couple students were willing to discuss this issue.

“I am safe on campus, for the most part; the people that I have met have been nice,” said openly gay senior Kyle Dunlap.

Senior Michael Shaw understood the fear some students feel.

“I think students who are gay should feel comfortable, but the fear some may face is the subject of being accepted as who they are and with Saint Leo being a Catholic institution it puts more strain on some. With this campus being small as well it tends to play a role on those willing to be out on campus,” Shaw said.

He thinks that freshman and transfer students are the individuals who face the most unacceptance.

“Personally, my first year here at Saint Leo was an adjustment year for me, but after my freshman year things became easier for myself and those around me were comfortable with it,” Shaw said.

When it comes to the administration, Junior Brittany Cessna has a very different opinion.

“I feel that the administration does nothing to help our gay students on campus and I think it’s wrong. We are all humans. We all have rights. It’s not fair for them to feel uncomfortable,” Cessna said.

Cessna, a straight ally of the gay community, was the president of her Gay-Straight Alliance in high school for all four years and is an active student who believes gays should be more accepted on-campus. Cessna was part of a group of people who attempted to bring the Gay-Straight Alliance program to campus, but it  was denied due to the Catholic faith being affiliated with Saint Leo University.

“This campus is about half and half divided with this issue. Many people accept it and many do not agree with it,”  Cessna said.

Cessna believes that for this atmosphere to change on campus, straight students should accept gay students for who they are and support them in their need.

Ken Posner, associate vice president of student services, talked at lengths about the Student Code of Conduct. He stressed that any student who attacks another based on sexual orientation would be persecuted to the fullest extent by the University. “We should all be accepted on this campus. We celebrate the core value of Community. Everyone should feel safe,” Posner said.

But is this just spoken word or is it enacted on-campus?

To Saint Leo students: Every student who attends Saint Leo University deserves the right to come onto our campus and be able to show who they are and have their own identity be respected. For gay students on this campus, the ability to be who they are is limited; and in some cases, there are no escapes for them to be who they are without an organization or an alliance to show support and to show them that it does get better, as so many have stated. After the tragedy at Rutgers, an international project called The It Gets Better Project was born to give straight and gay people the chance to make videos to reach out to young gay teens and to share experiences of being who they are and that they can rise above the bullies.

To the gay and lesbian students at Saint Leo:, There are so many students out there who feel the same way you do and that you are not alone. There are many gay students who I spoke to regarding this issue who did not want to comment on this article for fear of being attacked or made fun of. I can relate to this. I am an openly gay student and have been in rooms and in situations where students have said the most hateful and harmful things about openly gay students and gay people in general. I’ve heard vocabulary and sentences such as “That’s so gay,” or “Dude, quit being such a faggot” in everyday conversation. That is hate speech, and it needs to stop.  Despite what has been said, there are so many straight and gay students on this campus who support you and your right to be who you are.  If you ever need someone to talk to or if you need help, please see the Counseling Department or Student Services.  And do know, that it will get better and that people will be there for you.

To the administration of Saint Leo University: The time is now. Gay and lesbian students are on this campus and need a voice and they need it sooner than later. A gay-straight alliance would be a great first step towards a better voice for our gay community. Now, to those who say Catholic schools do not have this because of the religious affiliation, should look no further than DePaul University, of Chicago, Illinois. DePaul University is the largest Roman Catholic school in the country and has the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA) Student Services located right on their main campus and has a dedicated program to help their gay students.

If anybody would like to comment on this issue, please feel free to email a Letter to the Editor atthelionspridenewspaper@gmail.com. Please see the second page of this issue for instructions on how to do so.

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