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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Catholic Students at University of Portland Protest Policy Toward LGBTQ Members

Posted by Nathan Gilles on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Tomorrow, students at the University of Portland, the city’s largest Catholic college, are planning to protest their school’s policy—or lack there of—toward LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty.

According to a student activist group calling itself Redefine Purple Pride, students plan on demonstrating from 12-2 PM in the college’s Academic Quad by duct taping their mouths shut to symbolize how the school “silences them.”

At issue is the religious school’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Policy, which nods to state and local laws but does not explicitly mention LGBTQ issues. It reads in part:

The University of Portland does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, or any other basis protected by federal, state, or local law in its educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletic and other school-administered programs or in employment.

Redefine Purple Pride member Maraya Sullivan, who describes her college’s policy as “a don’t ask, don’t tell thing,” told the Mercury her group is currently petitioning the university’s board of regents to change this policy to include protection for LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty. (According the petition’s website, the effort has already gathered 1,112 supporters).

For its part the University of Portland says it’s taking claims of discrimination seriously. University spokesman Joe Kuffner gave the Mercury a list of LGBTQ-friendly actions the school has put in place, including the creation of the “University-sanctioned Gay-Straight Partnership club” and the university’s probably-not-legally-binding Statement of Inclusion, which the school adopted in 2011. And the statement does indeed include the following very inclusive language:

Our belief in the inherent dignity of each person is founded upon the social teaching of the Catholic Church. At the center of that teaching is the fundamental mandate that every person, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social or economic class, age, or disability shall be treated with respect and dignity.

University spokeswoman Laurie Kelley told the Mercury, while she wasn’t sure if the statement was legally binding or not, “It’s a statement we stand by, and any one that violates it will be punished.”

But, say activists, statements like these might not reflect the attitude of all school administrators. In a very notable blunder during a public talk, university president Father Bill Beauchamp, made the following statement, which was later tweeted and went viral:

We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus, they are not public about it and we don't ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue, then we would have trouble.

In response to his slip, Beauchamp issued a statement(PDF) to the student body in which he wrote that some of his statements “may have been taken out of context or perhaps misunderstood.” In the same statement, while affirming the college obeyed federal and state laws, he gave a wink to the protections afforded the college as a private religious institution.

“The government has respected our right to create policies that we believe reflect the teachings of our faith, and that is what we have done,” wrote Beauchamp.

Sullivan told the Mercury she understands the difficultly her group could face in getting their Catholic school to endorse LGBTQ-friendly policy. But says, her response to anyone that wants to, as she puts it, “pull the Jesus card” and use religion to exclude people is this: “I would say that social justice has been a major part of all our classes and is a huge part of Catholicism.”

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