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Georgetown's LGBT Student Housing Draws Right-Wing Ire

Georgetown University

The space, to open in the fall, is designed for students exploring issues of gender and sexual orientation, and the far right claims the Georgetown is abandoning its Catholic roots.

Georgetown University, a Catholic institution in Washington, D.C., has agreed to designate a space within student housing for those interested in safely exploring issues of gender and sexuality -- a move welcomed by LGBT students but drawing the ire of the far right.

Georgetown in December approved the proposal for what is called a Living Learning Community, a themed residential area "where like-minded individuals can share and deepen their passions through social, educational, and reflective activities," as explained on the website for Georgetown's Office of Residential Living. The university already has 13 such communities, housing about 500 students, and it reviews student proposals for new ones annually, reports student newspaper The Hoya.

The theme of the new community, scheduled to open in the fall, is "Crossroads: Gender and Sexuality." It "is intended to serve as a community space for conversations about inclusivity issues pertaining to gender and sexual orientation while remaining true to Georgetown's Jesuit values," The Hoya reports.

However, right-wing commentators have reacted furiously, calling the community "LGBT-only campus housing" and saying Georgetown has abandoned its Catholic values. Catholicism teaches that same-sex relations are sinful and considers gender to be determined at birth.

"What this new planned arrangement will do is water down the gender definitions even further -- while ratcheting confusions and political correctness and fears to speak truthfully about the role of biology and God in determining sex," wrote Washington Times columnist Cheryl Chumley.

Lifesite News said the new community shows that Georgetown simply "claims to be Catholic." The site went on to denounce Georgetown for employing gay faculty members and hosting pro-choice speakers, saying this means "authentic Catholicism" is being "bullied and squelched" at the university.

Details about the Crossroads community are still being worked out, but it is apparently not meant to be exclusionary, although it will no doubt appeal primarily to LGBT students. Online applications for other Living Learning Communities feature questions aimed at gauging students' interest in the community and determining how well they will fit in. The Hoya's report did not describe Crossroads as "LGBT-only," as Lifesite called it, but said it is instead intended for everyone interested in exploring issues of gender and sexuality.

Nor is it against Catholic teaching, university officials said. "Our Catholic and Jesuit values call on us to engage with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' with our LGBTQ community," Todd Olson, vice president of student affairs, told The Hoya. "It is in keeping with our Catholic and Jesuit values to provide a language, perspective, and sense of inclusion for deepening our sense of cura personalis." Cura personalis is a Latin phrase meaning "care for the whole person."

The Jesuit order, formally known as the Society of Jesus, is a Catholic religious order known for a scholarly bent -- the Jesuits run many colleges and universities -- and for sometimes questioning church teaching. But the words "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" come directly from the Catholic catechism on how to treat people who have what the church calls "deep-seated homosexual tendencies."

The new community will help LGBT students have fewer problems with housing, some students told The Hoya. "For trans students especially, housing is a very difficult and stressful process," Chad Gasman, president of the LGBT advocacy group GUPride and a coordinator for Crossroads, told the paper. "I know I spent many nights sleeplessly trying to figure out where to live that was going to get me both an accepting roommate and also an accepting floor community, and having an assurance that a floor on campus is not only geared towards queer and trans issues, but is going to be heavily, if not entirely, filled with fellow queer and trans students is undoubtedly a load off trans students' minds when housing selection rolls around."

Grace Smith, coauthor of the proposal for Crossroads, called the community's approval "a major and unprecedented accomplishment for a Catholic university." In an email to The Hoya, she continued, "It makes a profound and radical statement that religion does not have to be mutually exclusive with the freedom to understand, challenge, and grow through and with expressions of and reflection on gender and sexuality. It says: come as you are; be who you are; love how you do; and we'll make a home for you."

Approval of the new housing space received praise from some Catholic groups, including New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT acceptance within Catholicism. How to best support LGBTQ students in Catholic higher education is a complex matter, but it is good to see Georgetown University taking its commitment to "provide quality support so seriously by continuing to make progress each year," Robert Shine wrote in a post on the New Ways blog.

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