“Sexual Orientation” Missing From DeSales’ Non-discrimination Policies

Originally published in Issue 5, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (November 3, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue. 

DeSales strives for students to “Be who you are and be that well;” however, it is very controversial whether DeSales is including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students if they do not explicitly state “sexual orientation” in their policies.

The student handbook, faculty handbook and all policies at DeSales lack a non-discrimination clause that protects sexual orientation.

“We don’t recognize that as one of the items that are a protected class. We protect all people’s sexuality,” said Rev. Bernard O’Connor OSFS. “My problem with trying to list every category is that the list can get really long and we’d rather not focus on all of those individuating points.”

O’Connor often speaks of the sense of solidarity on campus; however, the solidarity coordinator position ceased to exist once graduate assistant Romar Lyle graduated from the program and found a job this past July. Years before, there was a full-time position but with downturns in the economy, it had to be cut.

Dean of students Linda Zerbe said they have always wanted a full-time position back. Last year the student affairs committee submitted a request for a director of solidarity, which would be a full-time position. The budget and finance committee did not approve of any new positions at DeSales last year and Zerbe said they plan to resubmit the proposal this year.

As a replacement of not having a solidarity coordinator, there have been Mondays in McShea to cover diverse topics. Zerbe also said what students have not done is requested a club for solidarity.

“That’s a really lovely opportunity to talk about everything,” said Zerbe. If students requested this club, it could focus on LGBT, ethnic backgrounds and other topics they are interested in and want to discuss.

“It’s under that umbrella,” said Zerbe who believes sexual orientation and other ways that students identify themselves falls under solidarity. “We work together as a whole community and look at: what does this mean to us, how do we belong at DeSales and how do we feel valued.”

Others feel the term solidarity is not sufficient in including the LGBT population on campus.

“I think the University’s efforts to label it as solidarity is a mask,” said professor Larry Belt, who openly identifies as gay. “It does not recognize the expressions of diversity that our population is made up of, and it doesn’t recognize the interests or concerns of the students who are gay or lesbian, LGBT.”

Throughout his ten years working at DeSales, Belt has had young men and young women come out to him as gay or lesbian, or come to him to discuss what it’s like identifying as LGBT.

Belt says people, in particularly faculty members, are not willing to come forward because there is no protection for them.

“I don’t know any other faculty person who is willing to come out and say that they’re gay and offer their support and help to the administration and to the students to facilitate discussion and implement some kind of different relationship,” said Belt.

He references the open forum “LGBT and DeSales” that was planned by the Solidarity Initiative in April 2015 and was cancelled.

“The purpose of that was to share what their experience was and what their concerns were, if they had any,” Belt said.

“We’re not trying to invent issues, we weren’t going to come up with solutions in that forum. It was just really about, let’s explore it, but we have to hear it from the students. We can’t just let it come from what we imagine or what we hear secondhand.”

A DeSales student who identifies as gay said, “So even though I personally haven’t had any discrimination problems, some people might not be as fortunate, so regulations should be used to help prevent future discrimination.”

This student also mentioned that if someone was interested in finding other gay students, it would be hard to do at DeSales and believes a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), a club that provides a safe place for people to support each other with sexual orientation and gender identity, and also work towards ending homophobia and transphobia, could be helpful.

“It might be good to have if gay students wanted to relate and talk to someone in similar situations because sometimes your straight friends don’t understand everything completely. Some might feel more comfortable in an LGBT setting.”

Many Catholic universities and schools protect sexual orientation in their non- discrimination clause and also encourage diversity programs such as a GSA.

Overall, there is not a lot of data out there on the LGBT population. Sexual orientation is not a question on the U.S. Census survey so if there is no data to be measured and no conversations about the LGBT population, there is no way to improve their lives.

One survey was done by Pew Research Center in 2013. They interviewed 1,197 LGBT adults and found that the majority of them regard faith groups as “unfriendly” to their community and specifically, 79 percent said the Catholic Church is unfriendly.

Additionally, three-in-ten LGBT adults said they were personally made to feel unwelcome in a religious organization.

Some could argue that DeSales not including “sexual orientation” in their non-discrimination clause is unwelcoming to LGBT students, faculty and staff.

“It’s not a Catholic prohibition. It’s an institutional prohibition here,” said Belt. “And that would be to me, the most significant thing that ought to be changed because then that stops marginalizing people who are different from the rest.”

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