When applying to a Catholic college or university, some students have the misconception that such environments are not accepting of the LGBTQ community. As president of the Gay-Straight Alliance on campus, I am proud to say that the exact opposite exists for our campus. In the past, prospective students have emailed me with concerns regarding their acceptance and safety at a Catholic, Jesuit University, and I respond with complete honesty in saying this campus is one of the most progressive Catholic, Jesuit universities for members of the LGBTQ community.
Recently, the GSA on campus has grown exponentially from having around ten consistent members to having 70 prospective members at our first general meeting!! This large growth occurred over the past two years, and it is safe to say there is more change to come. Momentum has strengthened on campus through the communal aspect of equality and having co-sponsored events with other clubs and organizations.
Every October, the GSA and the Alliance (a faculty-based group for gay and straight employees of the university) plan a jam-packed week full of events relating to LGBTQ issues. This past year we had a screening of the movie Milk, and even had an openly gay member of the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania, Brian Sims, come and talk about being gay in politics. However, Speak Out remains one of the major traditions of Unity Week.
Speak Out is a time for all SJU students to truly show their support for one another by getting in front of a crowded auditorium and saying whatever is on their minds with respect to the LGBTQ community. Many faculty members stand up and speak about their wishes for the future or their personal experiences, and students speak about themselves and their hardships, gay friends, or how campus has become a safe haven when their families have not been the most supportive. The fact that students feel comfortable enough to share personal, intimate details about their sexuality in the presence of more than 200 people says enough about how supportive Saint Joseph’s is.
As President of GSA, being a lesbian has been a very empowering experience even though we all encounter some level of insecurity and discrimination at some point in our lives. For example, I have heard guys on campus express their disappointment because I “swing for the other team.” Statements such as this don’t bother me, but it just makes me wonder how much more people need to be educated about the LGBTQ community. Empowerment comes from this reality of ignorance, and the passion to overcome this ignorance simply radiates from the members of GSA. Education is awareness, and the more we educate others about the LGBTQ community, the more aware people can become about human rights as a movement in general. As an organization, we just want people to be happy with who they are as a person, and our campus is a place to embrace the person they are meant to be.
Nicole Benzing is a senior Music major with a Psychology minor. She has been involved in a handful of theatre productions on campus, has been president of the Gay-Straight Alliance for the past two years, and does music cognition research in the Psychology Lab. She feels very honored to have experienced such growth in the LGBTQ community over the past few years and is excited to see what the future brings!