Scroll To Top

Wrestling Ally's Catholic College Talk

Wrestling Ally's Catholic College Talk


Hudson Taylor, former championship college wrestler and outspoken straight ally, spoke to students in the controversial same-sex marriage course being offered at Seton Hall University, a Catholic college in New Jersey.

The first of its kind to be offered at the Catholic institution in South Orange, "The Politics of Gay Marriage" undergraduate course drew widespread attention last spring when Newark archbishop John J. Myers, chairman of the university's board of trustees and president of the board of regents, urged the regents to reconsider the course because he believed it ran contrary to Catholic teachings. Taylor, now an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University, said he heard about the uproar and reached out to W. King Mott, the associate professor of political science teaching the course, to offer his time as a guest speaker.

"We talked about where I came from, how I got to where I am today, and how we can encourage and promote the unlikely allies to be not only allies but advocates, real advocates," said Taylor after the talk on Tuesday. The university closed the class to press, and a school spokesman did not return a request for comment asking why.

As a wrestler at the University of Maryland, where he won the 197-pound class at the Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling championships in March, Taylor attracted notice for speaking out for gay rights and wearing a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear. While coaching and applying to law schools this year, he is using his free time to shop a proposal for a book, The Athlete Ally: Empowering a New Era of Leadership and Inclusion in Sports, and to launch a nonprofit dedicated to increasing inclusion and safety for young LGBT athletes in sports. He and his fiancee, Lia Alexandra Mandaglio, a law student in Washington, D.C., recently posed for the No H8 campaign.

"I'm trying to put together some resources to empower a new era of leadership in sports geared around the idea of equality and inclusion," he said, "because I really think it's the straight allies who are going to make the most impact, especially when it comes to bullying. A lot of the kids in high school and middle school who have the most social capital are the athletes."

His next speaking engagement is scheduled for November 10 at Rutgers University in Newark, part of the state university system where, on the New Brunswick campus, two students face charges for invading the privacy of freshman Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide last month after video of him in an encounter with another man was broadcast on the Internet. Taylor said the talk was scheduled before the tragedy.

Gay students at Seton Hall, located about 30 miles north of Rutgers and 15 miles west of New York City, said allies play an especially important role on the campus, where gays exhibit low visibility but generally find a safe, although perhaps not encouraging, climate, making the archbishop's objections something of an exception to their everyday experience.

"The gay community is very quiet," said David Reyes, a junior diplomacy major and former resident adviser. "It's not oppressive, but you need someone to help you come out."

Despite their faint voice, the students report a significant constituency of allies among other students, faculty and staff members, even if Catholic teaching prohibits them from crossing the line into full-throated gay rights advocacy.

"We recognize it as a significant part of this campus," said Caitlin Ditchfield, the president of Allies, a campus group that is restricted to providing education and support. "Our goal is to explain the issues as they occur. Form our perspective, we want to promote wellness and understanding. Our education aspect is that there is an LGBTQ community here, and this is what's happening in that community as your peers."

How to balance the fine line between education and advocacy is a dilemma faced by the course, which aims to examine the concept of marriage in different times and cultures without taking sides. In addition to hearing guest speakers like Taylor, students said they read texts and discuss historical definitions of marriage and how same-sex marriage fits into revolutions like the elimination of laws that prevented interracial marriage.

The earlier controversy behind him, Mott, one of only a few openly gay professors on campus, said the principle of academic freedom carried the day in allowing the course to proceed.

"They understand that it is a legitimate academic enterprise, and that process was followed like it was for all courses," he said. "It's risky for them to interfere because they will appear anti-intellectual, and at times in its history, the Catholic Church has shown that it can be strikingly intellectual."

Mott said he "absolutely" planned to offer the course again next fall. Registered students said the course seemed to fill quickly. They reported a class of about 25, with some 20% of the students being openly gay.

Although the new course does not officially take a stance on marriage equality, students said that what they learn equips them to hold more informed conversations about an increasingly popular topic.

"It's given me the ability to have discussions with people who are against it," said Michael Jacobson, a senior political science and marriage equality supporter, who described his upbringing as "very conservative."

"Before, I had my feelings toward same-sex marriage and there really wasn't much I was able to say, and I wasn't really able to back up my opinion," he said. "Since I've been in the class I've been in discussion with a number of people whether it's work or school or home, especially home."

For his part, Taylor, who grew up in Princeton, N.J., said he did not know any LGBT people in his early life, but he credits his parents, whom he describes as "fundamentalists in Christian beliefs who respect difference." His great-great-great-grandfather is James Hudson Taylor, who was a prominent Christian missionary in China.

As a young athlete in high school, Taylor admits that he laughed at the homophobic jokes that pervade sports, but the language began to trouble him when he matured. In his sophomore year of college, he became captain of his wrestling team, where he took the small step but decisive step of asking his peers to be more conscious of their language.

"It's a cycle, and unless we can attack that and redefine what it means to be a successful athlete, what it means to be a successful leader, it's not going to change," he said. "The earlier the better."
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Julie Bolcer