I read, with great interest, Elizabeth Rich's University, clarified DeSales' long-standing commitment to creating a campus culture of unwelcome for their LGBT community. In the article, Joyce stated that the Catholic-ness of the institution would render it "hypocritical" to allow an LGBT student organization on campus.
Their decision was neither surprising nor was it earth shattering. In fact, it was the most predictable response possible. It's no secret that , and it is certainly widely accepted that the Roman Catholic Church opposes all forms of basic equality for LGBT people. But as an academic institution, one would hope that the university with all the same privileges provided to other student organizations at DeSales.
I am not interested in debating theology, or even student rights -- I am well aware that Catholic institutions have the right to discriminate against LGBT students, they are exempt from non-discrimination laws (when they exist in the relevant state or municipality), they certainly don't have to recognize same-sex relationships of their employees, and Dr. Joyce is correct in that they are not legally required to allow a gay straight alliance. The question is, why would they want to publicly state their opposition to creating an inclusive campus environment for their LGBT students? Why would they, so arrogantly, state that they are doing enough to foster an inclusive campus when both students and alumni are telling stories to demonstrate the opposite? And, why micromanage the extracurricular interests of their student body?
The only realistic answer is that DeSales University is more interested in preserving an antiquated Church doctrine than they are in creating an inclusive campus community for the people they are hired to serve, their students -- and what a message to send to current and prospective students.
But the presence of a Gay Straight Alliance is only one indicator of an inclusive campus community. Muhlenberg College, an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America affiliated institution, has a robust non-discrimination policy (inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity,) provides Domestic Partner Benefits to same-sex partners of their employees (which, in turn, has brought numerous out-LGBT faculty and staff to the college), employs an LGBT campus coordinator, offers Gender Neutral housing options for their students, and includes sexuality and gender studies into and across their curriculum. They have an LGBT student organization on campus as well - but it is the full package that makes Muhlenberg an inclusive campus community, and the lack of all those indicators that prevents DeSales from being one. In other words, a GSA would be great for LGBT students at DeSales, but it's not enough to make the community an inclusive space.
My guess is that DeSales is okay with this. They are okay telling their LGBT student's, some of whom may be Catholic, that the faith tradition of the university is opposed to "their lifestyle." They are okay telling their students that when the former is a hateful epithet and the latter is not. They are okay telling prospective employees that 'LGBT need not apply' --- and that is why DeSales pales in comparison to other Lehigh Valley institutions - Muhlenberg, along with other Lehigh Valley institutions including Lehigh, Lafayette, and Cedar Crest, are all light-years ahead of DeSales in their creation of an inclusive campus community for their LGBT students.
In some ways, DeSales' continued decision not to recognize a Gay Straight Alliance is a good thing -- it means they can't hide behind a student organization to pretend they are an inclusive space, when all other indicators demonstrate so clearly that they are not. It means that their current students won't have a false sense of being included as an equal on campus. It means that prospective students won't be fooled into attending the university by an assumption that it's a safe place to be open about ones' sexual orientation or gender identity.
Adrian Shanker is President of Equality Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth's political voice for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. He is a resident of Bethlehem, PA.
You can follow him on Twitter at @AdrianShanker