Photo Credit: Spectrum at Loyola University Maryland’s Facebook Page
Catholicism has not traditionally been seen as a home for the LGBTQ community. Even after considering Pope Francis’ more progressive views in recent years, the tradition of the Catholic Church has largely been viewed in opposition to those who are not straight or not cisgender.
These ideas often extend to religiously-affiliated colleges and universities. Many times, LGBTQ students struggle to find acceptance in these institutions, causing discomfort when attempting to consolidate their identity with their faith. While there are resources and networks like Campus Pride in Faith available to help LGBTQ students on religiously-affiliated campuses, anti-LGBTQ teachings within religious institutions can make for a harsh learning environment.
However, this does not always have to be the case. For many people, their faith affirms their identity and creates a balance that lends itself to a healthy and happy life. At Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, Catholic and queer identities come together in a unique way in Spectrum, the university’s LGBTQ student organization. This year, the organization celebrates 20 years on campus, a fact that could seem surprising to an outsider only familiar with anti-LGBTQ religious conservatives.
“For the longest time I tried to reconcile being Catholic and gay,” said Kevin Dietz, an alum of Loyola University who helped to found the student group that would become Spectrum in 1995. “In a sense, being a student at Loyola helped me reconcile my Catholic identity and my gay identity. I’m proud of all aspects of my identity — gay and Catholic.”
Spectrum was not the first LGBTQ student organization to form on Loyola’s campus. Dietz mentioned that several years before Spectrum, which then had a different name, another group was formed but did not “work.” When the new group came around, with only three students regularly attending, it could have met a similar fate. However, strong leadership and shifting cultural values helped to solidify Spectrum’s place on campus.
“I really didn’t know what to expect and it was easy to expect the negative. I thought that maybe some of our campus fliers would be torn down or defaced, but nothing negative happened,” said Dietz. “Staff and students were very supportive. Even the religious leaders — priests and nuns — at Loyola were supportive.”
Since 1995, Spectrum has seen positive growth and gains for the Loyola community. In 2012, Spectrum joined 10 other religiously-affiliated universities to participate in a letter campaign that highlighted the benefits of LGBTQ inclusion to Bishops, Diocese and school administrators, focusing on how they can increase cooperation and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Today, the organization continues to create inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students on campus. The group hosts social gatherings, outreach services, educational events and community advocacy programs throughout the school year for its members and the larger Loyola community.
“Many groups on campus partner with us for many events, including the Campus Ministry,” said Charmaine Bondoc, one of the current co-presidents of Spectrum. “Last semester, Campus Ministry funded the registration and transportation of several of our members in order to go to Ignatian Q at Georgetown.”
While much of the Loyola community is accepting and supportive of Spectrum, Charmaine pointed out that some on campus still struggle with their presence.
“There is a lot of support for this group on campus, but that’s not to say that the history hasn’t been a tumultuous one,” she said. “While some other clubs like partnering with us in order to have an informational session on different aspects of the LGBTQ community, the Loyola community as a whole has accepted our existence, but there’s been a lot of complacency. Nonetheless, I think the days of outright hatred are over.”
This has not stopped the group from making gains and dreaming bigger for the Loyola LGBTQ community. The group’s goals include further expanding Loyola’s SafeZone Training, which was only for faculty, staff and administration, but was recently expanded to orientation leaders. The group also hopes to create a physical space on campus for the Loyola LGBTQ community with hired staff trained specifically on LGBTQ issues and student needs.
Spectrum has had a long history on Loyola’s campus, and current students and alumni are hoping for a long, bright future.
“As someone who hasn’t been a student for a long time, I can say that my main hope is that it continues for 20-or-more years. The LGBTQ community has a voice at Loyola.
They have a sense of community” said Dietz. “All incoming students will know that they have a group of people with whom they can have an instant connection. Thousands of students didn’t have that sense of community before Spectrum started and it’s a very satisfying feeling to know that I helped start that community at Loyola.”
Spectrum has done an outstanding job of creating a welcoming and accepting space for LGBTQ communities on Loyola’s campus. Over the past 20 years, countless students have gotten the support they need from this group. All LGBTQ students, despite their personal faith or type of college or university they attend, have specific needs that must be met before they can have a successful education. Spectrum is one of many groups throughout the world providing students these needs.
“I think that no matter your religious background, or lack thereof, it’s important to have social and educational support. Whether someone is just coming out or has been out, to know that there is a group on campus where there are people like you can provide needed support and encouragement,” said Dietz. “The fact that an LGBTQ group can be started on a small, Catholic campus — 20 years ago — shows just how supportive and encouraging an environment Loyola was, and still is.”
For more information on being LGBTQ on religiously-affiliated campuses, including Campus Pride’s #LGBTQNotSin campaign, please visit our Religion and Faith Resources. The #LGBTQNotSin campaign allows LGBTQ people of faith to examine their identity on social media or through a video. To participate, use the hashtag #LGBTQNotSin on social media to join the conversation or submit a video of you sharing your store to email@example.com.
Campus Pride freelance writer Allison Marie Turner, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, contributed to this article. Follow her on Twitter @amturner1993.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.