Thursday, October 12, 2017

On the Danger of Allowing Gay People to Be Public in Catholic Institutions: A Story from the Recent Past

Yesterday, I blogged about the recent statement of a bishop, Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina, that Catholic officials and institutions must have the right to punish gay employees who "go public" about their gay identities and relationships. During the night last night, as I lay awake thinking about these issues in the wee hours of the morning, a memory flashed back. It's from my years teaching at Xavier University, a Catholic university in New Orleans. The following events occurred around 1989 or 1990, as best as I can recall.

I'm at the campus early preparing for an early morning class. I look up and see a colleague, another faculty member, walking down the hallway towards me. He has been horrendously beaten: both eyes are black, his face has multiple bruises, his arm is in a sling, and he's walking with obvious pain.

I exclaim something in shock, and he tells me what happened — a very tailored version of what happened, I suspect. The man, whom I don't know well at all, is gay. I know this. I'm sure a lot of members of the campus community know this. I know this though he has never told me this and I have never told him about myself.

None of us ever talk about any of these matters. Or about ourselves. Gay people don't exist in Catholic institutions. Go public about who you are, and you'll be fired in Catholic institutions. We all know this. And so we preserve a strict code of silence, biting our tongues as we sit in faculty gatherings and listen to f—g jokes told by colleagues, or as we listen to ugly vituperation about queer people. We preserve a strict "Catholic" code of silence even as young men who are members of the campus community are dying of an illness we don't even acknowledge they had, as we go to their funerals.

My colleague tells me that he was in a parking lot several days ago, heading to hs car after having seen a movie, and a gang of young men set on him and began beating him. Because he's a small man, he was able to roll under a parked car, and in this way, he escaped the worst of what they might have done. He had been recuperating for a day or so and this is his first day back on campus.

As I say, as I hear this story, I know, of course, that it's not by any means the full story. This man was beaten because he was gay. Something attracted the attention of a group of gay-bashers — perhaps he was at the movie with a boyfriend, perhaps they became visible as a gay couple as a gang of young men intent on beating a f—g are roaming about. 

If this had been any other kind of attack, he'd have reported it to the police. He can't report it as a gay-bashing and remain secure in his position teaching in a Catholic institution. (He himself is, like a lot of faculty members at this school and like many of the students, not Catholic, by the way; he teaches in the math-science area, a subject difficult for one to frame as integral to Catholic identity or Catholic moral principles, so that it would be hard to argue that, if he were public about his gay identity while teaching in that field, he was somehow endangering the Catholic principles and identity of this university.)

This story revolves around the term "public," don't you see? It revolves around the very term that is, for Bishop Jugis, a bugbear term: in Catholic institutions, we cannot permit gay people to be public about who they are and whom they love, Jugis preaches. Permitting this undermines our Catholic identity.

But you know what really undermines Catholic identity? Nothing undermines Catholic identity quite so much as having to walk around a Catholic campus and encounter a colleague who has been beaten to a pulp because he's gay, and not being permitted to talk about this. Openly. Publicly.

Nothing undermines Catholic identity so radically as dealing with such a situation and not being able, due to "Catholic" codes of silence, to discuss homophobia and gay-bashing openly, to devise a campus response to these ugly social evils. To be able to say how sorry you are — as a campus community — that one of your members has been beaten within an inch of his life solely because he is gay. To stand together with that colleague in loving solidarity because you are a Catholic community of faith.

This is the world that Peter Jugis and his ilk want to return us to.

It was (and still is, because it's still strong in many Catholic institutions) barbaric. Not Catholic. 

Barbaric. Cruel. Ugly. Not in any way rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ in how it dealt/deals with people made queer by  God.

(The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at Xavier were, by the way, good folks, for the most part. They did the best they could to love and support queer members of the campus community in their own quiet way in the years I taught at this school — in the quiet way that was, and still often is, the only way permitted in Catholic institutions in which codes of strict silence about sexual orientation are imposed. Their behavior about these matters was in marked contrast to the behavior of the Benedictine community of men Steve and I encountered in the diocese of Charlotte when I left Xavier to take another teaching job in 1991 at the school that community runs.)

(If you click on the graphic, it should enlarge and be legible for you.)

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