Shortly before my freshman year at Fordham University, I came out to my parents and close friends. Classmates had mocked me for acting gay since elementary school, but it took me years to admit that dreaded fact to myself. My family was nominally religious, but always told me they would accept me no matter what. Nevertheless, I doubted that gay sex made sense from a moral point of view. It seemed to me that men and women “fit” together, and that something essential would be missing if I were to pursue a relationship with another guy.
These moral reservations sparked an interest in Christianity. I started to wonder if God’s existence really had anything to do with daily life and deeper questions about finding meaning. My parents worried when they saw me reading the Bible, especially when I started telling them what it says about homosexuality. As I prepared to enter a Catholic university, I decided that I was going to explore “the whole God thing” more intentionally, in hope of finding some answers.
Still, the prospect of having a boyfriend, or even just gay friends, thrilled me. An alumna had told me that at Fordham's Lincoln Center campus (located in Hell’s Kitchen, also known as the “gayborhood”), “basically half of the guys are gay,” and I soon discovered this was true. Thus my first few weeks at Fordham were at once exciting, anxiety-inducing, and full of glitter. I was enthralled by the beautiful gay men sitting next to me in class and couldn’t wait to attend the first meeting of the “Rainbow Alliance”—a group with the mission of providing LGBTQ students with a “safe space” to explore their identity. Rainbow was one of the most active clubs on campus. Students often joked about how ironic it was that at a Catholic school, Rainbow was one of the most visible clubs. But as at most Jesuit schools, anything goes.
At one of the first meetings I attended, club leaders invited us to record videos about how even if people had mistreated you for your gay identity in the past, “it will get better.” I remember one girl went on camera saying she was raised by strict Evangelical parents, who “rejected her identity.” But now, she said, “it’s better.” She let go of those “hateful” teachings from the Bible, embraced the God “who doesn’t judge us,” and started dating a girl, with whom she planned to attend Fordham's annual Queer Prom.
I also went to the Queer Prom, imagining there would be attractive guys and good music. I was not prepared to find two Jesuits standing at the entrance, one wearing a pink feather in his hair. “Aren't they supposed to be against this?” I thought to myself. At this stage of my life, I was still trying to figure out why I was so fascinated by the Church's rituals and traditions. So I asked the Jesuit with the pink feather if I could meet with him to ask a few questions. I wanted to understand Catholicism's moral teachings better.
But when I met with the Jesuit, he started talking about how the pope (at the time Benedict XVI) was “too strict with the teaching on contraception.” “Most Catholics use condoms nowadays,” he said. “Benedict says he would rather have a small Church with people who follow the teaching than a full Church where people do as they please. Come on—let’s get real!” To clarify why he thinks the Church should recognize the sacramentality of same-sex marriages, he told me about his experience as a young bisexual teen. “Back in those days, people weren’t as accepting as they are now,” he said. “I couldn’t tell my family. I thought, if I join the priesthood, then no one will have to find out about my secret.” According to this Jesuit, no one should have to hide in secrecy. If you’re LGB or T, you should be able to “live openly” in the Church, in defiance of Church teaching.
This attitude toward sexual doctrines permeated the theology department. One of my first classes, Bible and Human Sexuality, began with a debunking of the “clobber passages.” We were taught that St. Paul wasn’t referring to modern, loving homosexual couples when he condemned arseonikoitai, but to pagan temple prostitution. After reading Joseph Ratzinger’s CDF “Halloween Letter” on homosexuality, the professor told us how ridiculously archaic Ratzinger’s reasoning was, much to the delight of the LGBT students in the room. Later in the semester, we read an essay by a gay Protestant who had decided to give up living a homosexual lifestyle. My professor, Dr. Benjamin Dunning, belittled this man’s decision, claiming that his sense of “being delivered” from homosexuality was delusional. “These kinds of people just need to accept who they are and stop lying to themselves.” My classmates cheered for our professor's moral heroism.
Eventually, I went to the counseling department, hoping to talk to someone about homosexuality's moral implications. When I told the counselor leading a support group for LGBT students that I was worried that seeking a boyfriend was morally problematic, she disinvited me from the group, claiming that my “views might offend some of the other students.” “In our group, we are about self-acceptance, not self-hatred,” she told me.
After realizing that Fordham's professors, counselors, and Jesuits did not intend to take my concerns seriously, I decided to try to figure out this dilemma by myself. I spent the summer after my freshman year reading about different positions on homosexuality. In August, I prayed out of desperation: “God, I have no idea what the right thing is. I’m giving you three days to give me an answer.”
I can’t say He answered me in that three-day time span, but as I was getting ready to move back into my dorm, I came across an article by Eve Tushnet. I had never before heard such a moving and reasonable account about someone choosing to accept the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality, while not being ashamed of her attraction to women. (Neither she nor I “celebrate” the disordered dimension of same-sex attraction, but rather affirm the ways in which the attraction inclines us toward self-giving love.) It was settled. I was going to keep being myself, while living a celibate lifestyle.
I decided to try one more time to find people at Fordham who might be able to support me, since celibacy was intimidating. After finding an LGBT spirituality group through Campus Ministry, I met with the group leader and told him about my decision to live chastely. He told me I was welcome to come, but that I would not be allowed to imply that my decision to be celibate was based on the idea that same-sex sexual activity is sinful. This belief might trigger some of the other members.
It became clear to me that except for a few open-minded and faithful people, Fordham was uninterested in helping me to follow what Christ and His Church teach about love and sexuality. On the contrary, it seemed like everyone was actively trying to discourage me from following these teachings. I still attribute much of my conversion to and growth in Catholicism to my Fordham experience, including my encounters with some exceptional Jesuits. But I wish that Fordham was more interested in promoting orthodox Catholic sexual teaching. What is the institution actually giving its gay/SSA students? All I got was half-baked theology and secular LGBT ideology with Jesuit buzzwords like “cura personalis” and “men and women for others” sprinkled on top.
What if the theology department were to hire professors well-versed in orthodox Catholic moral teaching? What if they had decided to fire J. Patrick Hornbeck II, current department chair, when he married his male partner (in the Episcopal Church)? What if they offered spirituality groups for gay students who wanted to live chastely? What if they invited celibate gay/SSA Catholic speakers like Ron Belgau or Daniel Mattson to give presentations? Let us pray that Catholic institutions like Fordham begin giving SSA students the truths that they need in order to grow spiritually and intellectually in accord with Christ and His Church.
Sebastian Alvarez writes from New York City.