The University of San Diego may be a private Catholic institution, but LGBT students and faculty say the campus has welcomed them with open arms.
By Margie M. Palmer | GSD Reporter
University of San Diego (USD) Pride Vice President Niko Pascua said that when he applied to USD, he was more than a little hesitant because he knew it was a private Catholic university.
“I wasn’t sure how my homosexuality would affect me [here],” Pascua said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d need to be closeted for fear of professors being biased toward me, or if people would think awful thoughts of me, or if I’d need to worry about being the victim of [a] hate crime.”
Pascua, a sophomore, said that when he arrived to campus, however, the climate was not at all what he expected. “I was able to make friends quickly and the other students were very lax about my orientation.
They didn’t care,” he said. When Pascua stumbled upon the University’s Pride group—an alliance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning and supportive students—he became even more proud to call himself a Torro. The USD Pride group is extensive, with regular meetings and a program they call “Rainbow Educators,” which is a group of students, staff, and faculty who are trained to present workshops on diversity topics, including sexual orientation.
“The [Pride] meetings covered a very broad range of topics and activities,” Pascua said. “One meeting might be about getting to know each other and having fun, and then the next would be very serious, with the University ministry coming in and saying that we were all welcome at the school and that we were welcome into the church whenever we wanted.”
Pride advisor Evelyn Kirkley said she agrees that the USD campus is a lot more tolerant than people might expect. In 2009, she pointed out, the University allowed the group to hold its first Pride dance, which attracted hundreds.
“We did have some resistance at first, because the official Roman Catholic position is that while it is okay for a person to be gay or lesbian…it’s not okay for a person to engage in same-sex relationships,”
“Some tried to say that having a dance would encourage homosexual behavior and would lead to homosexual sex,” Kirkley explained, “but others pointed out that Catholic teachings also prohibit sex before marriage and that if this was the argument, than fraternities and sororities shouldn’t be allowed to have parties or mixers because they might lead to people having premarital sex.”
Pascua said that having speakers such as Harvey Milk’s nephew, Stewart Milk, speak on campus have helped shape not only who he is as a person, but his experience as a student of USD.
“This really is a place where people can find a sense of being welcomed,” he said, “and the Pride group is a place where people who are LGBT or questioning can come and talk about their sexuality, their bisexuality, or their questioning status and ask those questions.”
Apart from the Pride group and the Rainbow Educators, USD also promotes a program called the Safe Space Allies Network. In this program, members of the University are given an emblem they can post that serves as a sign to others that he or she is welcome and can discuss LGBT issues openly. “USD is a very gay accepting
campus,” Pascua said, “and I’m so proud of the University for standing by all of its students.”