The University of San Diego, a Catholic institution, hosted a drag show this week despite several protests and prayers from alumni, students, and even a local priest.
In response, a group of alumni requested permission from the university’s administration to use the chapel to pray the rosary during the event but were denied, prominent alumnus Charles LiMandri told The Cardinal Newman Society. But six USD students along with a priest from a nearby parish knelt outside the event, praying the rosary amid a larger group of pro-drag show students who assembled in a counter demonstration.
Father Jacob Bertrand of St. Rose of Lima, a Catholic parish in nearby Chula Vista, participated in the prayer group outside the event. He told The Cardinal Newman Society he heard about the drag show through Facebook and decided to join the six students in prayer. He said when he arrived there, he was surprised and saddened to see he was the only priest with the students on a Catholic campus.
“No professor or chaplain there was willing to do pray with these students,” he said. “But these kids stood up against all of that. I hoped that my presence showed them that their shepherds will stand beside them. If we’re not leading them, we’ll at least show up.”
Father Bertrand said that other priests on campus weren’t just absent. It was far worse than that. He said that while he was speaking with the media and some counter demonstrators about the Church’s stance on sexuality, another priest came up behind him and “scoffed” at everything Father Bertrand said. “He was very antagonistic,” he said.
“I was hoping my collar would show a unified front. But then another man with a collar showed the division,” he said. “It was disturbing. All the stuff I got done saying, he spoke for a few minutes, undid it all, and confused it again.”
Father Bertrand said he has great hope in the students who prayed at the school but little in the administration. “My hope is that the students will feel empowered to live out their faith as authentically as they desire to,” he said. “Maybe they’ll attract another student who sees something joyful about this authentic Catholic life. This is the way USD will transform. It won’t be through administration or faculty. It won’t be through staff. It’ll have to be the students.”
Father Bertrand said there’s “something drastically wrong” with USD when students and alumni aren’t encouraged to pray, but the administration “pulls out all the bells and whistles for a drag show.”
Stuart Weiss, the student who led the rosary outside the event, told The Cardinal Newman Society he hoped some good would come out of all this. “Believe it or not, I think this has been a good thing. It’s been under the radar, but this university has been like this for a while and it hasn’t been addressed,” he said. “There’s no hiding the fact that USD is not living up to its Catholic name. Now maybe people will have to do something about it.”
Doing something about it is exactly what prominent alumnus and attorney Charles LiMandri intends to do. He said he hopes that this “awful event” will inspire a turnaround in the university. LiMandri sent out a letter to a group of alumni describing the event earlier this week. He said that already several major donors have told him that they will not be donating any more to the university in light of the event. LiMandri even started a website called Alumni for a Catholic USD to inspire other alumni to get involved.
As for the drag show itself, video was strictly prohibited. The Cardinal Newman Society spoke with one man who said he was asked to turn off his video camera inside.
But one professor at the drag show, a gay marriage advocate, even went so far as to compare the drag show to Shakespeare, according to the student newspaper.
Lori Watson, professor of philosophy and director of the gender studies program, began the show with a lecture that included the historical roots of the word “drag.”
“It’s important to note that men dressing as women for entertainment and performance goes back to the Ancient Greeks,” Watson said. “In the theater and performance of Greek plays, men acted in female roles–so too did men perform the female roles, dressed as women, in Shakespeare’s time.”
LiMandri said he studied Shakespeare at Oxford University. “Comparing men doing a theatrical performance with no sexual connotations to what’s going on on that stage is just intellectually dishonest,” he said.
Despite the University’s attempts to paint this as an “educational” event, LiMandri said, “This isn’t education. It’s highly sexually inappropriate.”
The student body president told reporters outside the event, “There is nothing wrong with having a drag show at USD because what it is, it’s the LGBT community expressing themselves as they feel comfortable doing so. It’s these people who might ground their bigotry in prayer that are the ones that attack us, but that doesn’t make sense because we know that we’re a member of this human family and all that we’re trying to do is show each other who we are.”
The administration didn’t respond to questions concerning these events by the time of publication.