The University of Portland is our school, and it is a damn good one at that; we are proud to be Pilots. Every good institution, however, needs its critics to become great. And that is what we are called to become today — its critics. More specifically, its critics of how the University has failed its LGBTQ+ students.
As involved members of the LGBTQ+ community at the University of Portland, it has come to our attention that there have been multiple reported instances of homophobia, transphobia and bigotry from high levels of leadership that our community has ignored for far too long. Many of these incidents involve friends who would rather remain anonymous.
We respect their decision and omit many profound examples of anti-LGBTQ+ behavior from higher leadership because of our genuine fear for their safety. But we refuse to remain silent as our University presents a false image that we are an institution welcoming to all while actively excluding our LGBTQ+ friends. Instead, we draw on more public examples of anti-LGBTQ+ behavior from the University to demonstrate our point.
Our audience is our LGBTQ+ friends and allies. Our message is this: we feel you and your pain. We won’t stop our work until the failures of this University’s higher leadership have been brought to light and are hopefully one day corrected. The University serves, for many of us, as a second home and we feel it is up to us to share when that home is broken.
This is the reality of being queer and trans at the University of Portland.
There appear to be many contradictions in the University’s practices, arguably rooted in the University’s Catholic traditions. In Catholic institutions, intolerance has historically been accepted and, in some communities, even encouraged. This is not to say, however, that we believe Catholicism and the LGBTQ+ community are inherently incompatible. We believe that there is a way for these two communities to coexist and intersect, but not in our current campus atmosphere.
Many queer and trans symbols are indeed allowed on campus — from custom dorm pride flags to clubs to celebrations of queer and trans joy. Despite this, queer couples cannot get married in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. The University picks and chooses what is and what is not in line with the Catholic Church.
While surface-level acceptance of LGBTQ+ existence enhances the University's image of being tolerant, the University hesitates to allow and promote more massive, public displays of allyship. Through its actions, the University appears to tokenize its LGBTQ+ students, approving and allowing certain activities while rejecting others that are potentially "too gay" for the University to handle. This, in effect, creates a false image of acceptance at the University and perpetuates the “fear [of] negative consequences for being too visibly ‘out’ as LGBTQ[+]" in our campus’ atmosphere that staff have also reported back in a 2013 Beacon article.
LGBTQ+ students are tokenized by the administration as a tool to create the false image of inclusion, with performative actions and words used to silence criticisms from the student body while queer students continue to suffer. To our dear LGBTQ+ students, do not be fooled by the administration’s surface-level demonstrations of tolerance — homophobia and transphobia run deep within the University, and there is no fix without the unconditional acceptance of LGBTQ+ community members.
Rejecting LGBTQ+ folks for being who they are is not in line with Christ's teaching about having profound love and respect for others. If the University were to be more accepting and affirming, this would, in turn, be more in line with Catholic teaching.
It should be noted, however, that the University of Portland’s intolerance extends far beyond a culture of tokenism.
In 2013, students organized "Redefine Purple Pride," a movement to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the University’s nondiscrimination policy. Not only was the administration extremely hesitant to do so, but the University, headed by Father Bill Beauchamp, even blocked emails containing the phrases “Redefine Purple Pride'' and “RPP,” with administrators claiming that it was all an accidental "oversight."
The Beauchamp Administration, the man after whom our recreation and wellness center is named, subjected students to unwarranted censorship when advocating for their LGBTQ+ rights. At the time of the email censorship in March 2014, RPP was already a well-established movement at the University, having organized a march with 100 students and establishing a committee with the audience of President Beauchamp himself to change the nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation in March 2013.
This means that administrators should have already known that RPP was a well-established group in 2014. We find the University's claim that this email block was an error quite hard to believe, with students saying the controversy "felt like Big Brother, like censorship."
Not only has the University sought to censor LGBTQ+ students for voicing our concerns, but it has also accepted contributions from groups that have contributed to the dehumanization of LGBTQ+ people. In 2016, The Beacon reported that the University received funding from the Murdock Trust, an organization that has donated to groups that fund conversion therapy and whose recipients have claimed that “AIDS is one way that God punishes the LGBT[Q+] community.”
How can a university which prides itself as Christian align itself with an organization that is apathetic to the death and suffering of others, especially one of our nation’s most vulnerable populations?
This is not the first time the University has accepted support from an anti-LGBTQ+ source with open arms. In September of 2018, the University’s Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life & American Culture invited Fr. Paul Scalia to serve as the Red Mass speaker, a man known for regularly voicing his disdain for queer and trans lives on the grounds that “[we] lack the natural ordering to procreation.” It seems as though Scalia argues that procreation is the only purpose for a loving relationship.
What does this say about couples who suffer from infertility? It seems that by Scalia’s logic, couples who suffer from infertility are also deserving of his disdain for their “lack” of a natural ordering to procreation. We detest this idea and his logic. Love is love, and to discriminate against different kinds of it, as well as to judge that love is valuable insofar as it can “achieve the union of two persons in one flesh,” is an offense to love itself.
To continue, there have been countless examples of the University dead-naming trans students. In the fall 2021 semester, a dorm threw an event that was promoted with hand-written invitations sent to every student on campus. The dorm failed to do their due diligence to check the list of preferred names they received and, in turn, dead-named every single trans student living on campus.
Dead-naming (the act of calling a trans person the name they were given at birth rather than the name that they have chosen for themselves to affirm their gender identity) can be dangerous for trans students as it outs them to their peers and is hazardous to their mental health.
Dead-naming and outing a trans person can also lead to violence against them. 2020 was the most violent year for trans and gender non-conforming individuals. Dead-naming someone might not seem like a big deal, but the consequences can be enormous. There are numerous documented cases across the country where a trans person was killed or subject to violence because they were outed as a trans person. We call on the University to commit to changing trans students’ names in all UP databases in order to ensure no student has to endure the pain of being dead-named.
If our University dares call itself a Catholic institution, something that prides itself in the virtue of human life, then we must call on our administrators and leadership at all levels to respect the identity of our trans peers. Otherwise, that title and that claim to value human life becomes hollow and performative.
Students and faculty suffer in the suffocating environment of silence and the sheer lack of accountability that this university has created. We have noticed an alarming trend of LGBTQ+ community members and leaders leaving the University, with several citing the lack of an inclusive culture towards minority groups as one of their primary reasons.
As is made evident throughout this piece, the University has not always held true to its obligations to affirm and accept its LGBTQ+ students or staff. We feel it is essential for everyone to recognize the pain that the University has caused its queer and trans community. We call on the University of Portland’s administration to take accountability for the harm it has caused its members and affirm all students — particularly those who identify as QTBIPOC. LGBTQ+ students — your pain is our pain, and we will work with you to see justice.
There are countless more cases of homophobia, transphobia and prejudice that we are not aware of or that we can’t speak of. If you are a student who has ever experienced discrimination, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. To past, present and future queer and trans Pilots, we see you and are here for you.
Beth Chvilicek (she/they)
MK Asher Machi (they/he/she)
Julia Moran (she/her)
Noam Nenninger (he/they)
Chivon Ou (all pronouns)
August Stone (they/them)
Maeve Wiley (she/her)
Tate Harris (they/them)
Beth Chvilicek is a junior at UP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MK Asher Machi is a sophomore at UP. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Julia Moran is a sophomore at UP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Noam Nenninger is a senior at UP. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Chivon Ou is a junior at UP. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August Stone is a sophomore at UP. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Maeve Wiley is a senior at UP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tate Harris is a junior at UP. They can be reached at email@example.com.
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