Op-ed: How the Jesuits Dance With LGBT Students



Last week Zach Wahls, a student from Iowa who was raised by two lesbian moms, was scheduled to speak at my alma mater — Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.—but he never got the chance.

Wahls, whose February 2011 testimony before the Iowa state legislature defending marriage equality was the most-watched political video of 2011, became an icon for children of LGBT parents. Wahls opened the eyes of many who were torn about that aspect of same-sex marriage.

His event was ultimately canceled by the administration of Canisius College, a Catholic institution. Directly or not, administrators risked advocating for same-sex marriage. And I suppose that by now I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am that they didn’t want to hear from Wahls.

In August 2007, I arrived at Canisius College, like many modern-day college students, at a time when I was becoming politically active for the first time and starting to make my own decisions.

Canisius, one of 28 Jesuit institutions in the nation, is a beautiful campus on the east side of Buffalo, which is nestled in the historic Hamlin Park district. I was drawn to the college for a variety of reasons, but most important to me, was the demeanor and attitude of the students I came across during my visits. Unlike atother places, the students seemed lively, happy, and friendly; there was an unspoken acceptance that I felt even as a prospective student.

Another thing I noticed about Canisius, and it would be hard not to, was that the “Catholic” aspects of the school were evident. Priests walked throughout the quad. A massive, beautiful chapel stood in the middle of campus. Still, the college seemed progressive and liberal, an impression that proved true during my time at Canisius. That isn’t to say, though, that I wouldn’t go on to face many roadblocks as a gay student.

Simply put, I was raised agnostic. My parents talked about “God” from time to time, but we never spoke of a religion. We certainly never went to church, except on a few random occasions. On a political level, my parents spoke of their beliefs and shared thoughts on the economy and social issues. And as a son of blue-collar parents, I suppose, when it comes down to it, I was raised in a Democratic household without the label.