Students fight Seton Hall for GLBT support group
January 17 2004 12:00 AM ET
A gay student group is fighting for recognition at Seton Hall University, where administrators say the group contradicts the Roman Catholic school's religious mission. Truth, a support group for GLBT students, applied for official recognition with the university last month but was turned down.
"The most compelling guidance from the church directs us to care for the human person whose fundamental identity is as a 'child of God'--not a 'heterosexual' or 'homosexual,'" wrote Laura Wankel, vice president for student affairs. "No organization based solely upon sexual orientation may receive formal university recognition."
Although it denied the group official recognition, the university said Truth may operate on campus, apply for funds from the office of student affairs, and host educational events, meetings, and programs. The group cannot, however, host social events or sponsor religious services or activities. Official church teaching condemns homosexual acts.
"With public colleges, it's pretty straightforward--they have to recognize these groups," Nick Sakurai, director of the U.S. Student Association's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Empowerment Project, told The Record of Bergen County, N.J., for Friday's editions. "With private ones it's a little more gray. I've seen Catholic colleges that do recognize LGBT student groups, but it seems to vary from diocese to diocese."
The Seton Hall compromise seems to be modeled after a similar arrangement at Georgetown University following a lawsuit in 1987 by students denied recognition. The courts found that a private university is not required to recognize a group, but it cannot withhold "tangible benefits" available to all groups, including funding.
At Seton Hall, Anthony Romeo, the head of Truth, said he will discuss the university's offer of a "special standing" with some of the other 20 members of his group. He admits the offer is a place to start but says the special-standing funding smacks of "hush money." "We just want a place at the table," said Romeo, a junior from upstate New York. "We're not asking for more or less than other groups."
Jim Goodness, spokesman for the archdiocese of Newark, told the newspaper he was unaware of the issue. Seton Hall spokeswoman Natalie Thigpen said, "We acknowledge the need to work with the students in this area through an ongoing dialogue. We want to work with them to meet their goals but in a way that we're sure will be consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church."