Your college’s policies may omit the mention of LGBTQ+ students and their rights, and it may discriminate in their employment but that doesn’t mean that your college doesn’t have LGBTQ+. Enforcing hetero conformity and beginning with the assumption of universal heterosexuality doesn’t erase the truth. It just motivates people not to talk about it.
As the long line of initials suggests, there’s a lot of variety in the human experience when it comes to sexuality and gender expression. But if the only experience that Catholics allow is “Men like women because sex. Women need to submit to men in marriage because babies. We need sex because babies,” then it leaves a lot of people wondering where they fit into this worldview.
Closeted lesbians, living in communities in which women are expected to accept a husband or enter religious life, cannot confess that they are not interested in men as sexual partners. Religious orders would likewise reject them if they knew that they preferred women. To maintain secrecy and safety in the Church often requires having to offer endless apologies for why they are not married with children or religious sisters. So long as those reasons are never “I don’t actually find men sexually attractive. Yes, I’m sure of that. I find women sexually attractive.”
There are a few other options that involve more secrecy and disguise. There are Catholic, closeted lesbians who are married with children and others are nuns. There are single, closeted lesbians working in Catholic institutions whose acquaintances and families are praying to St. Joseph or St. Anthony for — because the existence of lesbians are treated as a scandalous embarrassment. This is especially done by Catholic men comforting themselves with the delusion that women don’t or can’t have powerful responses to visual stimuli or have libidos as strong as men. And if attitudes among Catholic men involve all women being put on earth by God specifically for women to serve their needs as they see them, this can lead to hate crimes of male entitlement.
Catholics are called to seek the truth, even when the truth is difficult and uncomfortable.
The existence of gay men is treated as a horror by some Catholics. That this cultural crisis is destroying “real masculinity,” “the order of nature,” and “traditional family” are talking points nearly always at the core of their homophobic screeds. Gay men are not allowed to be priests and treated with revilement and suspicion if they slip through. It is harder for many gay Catholics to stay closeted because the social expectations of fragile masculinity require so much suspicion and performance.
Because women are already treated less seriously, lesbians are treated as something that can merely be shushed out by a reassurance that “you’re not a lesbian, you’re just confused.” Gay men are often subjected to more violent homophobia. They are bombarded from “traditional” Catholics with constant bullying, gaslighting and brainwashing that they are supposed to be “real men” and married to women and procreate children. And if they won’t, it can cost them their jobs, their housing, their reputations, their safety or their lives.
Bisexuals are a source of confusion to Catholics in socially conservative circles. Bisexual men will face the same revilement as gay men if they love someone of the same sex. Bisexual women can be subject to the same fetishization, male entitlement crimes and hate crimes as their lesbian counterparts. The safety and the danger of bisexuals has much to do with whom they fall in love with or desire or how they can code their self-expression. That is an unpredictable thing for your physical safety to depend upon.
Asexuals are likewise culturally erased, because if some bisexuals could possibly be in straight passing relationships, some Catholics don’t care about the rest. They don’t want to know about anything else. If asexuals can stay celibate and dutifully apologize their whole lives for being single, or just all become priests and nuns, they will be left alone and unacknowledged.
Queer and questioning people matter whether or not they ever feel safe to tell you about it. Closeted queer and questioning Catholics may be safe from discrimination or attacks, but they hear all the homophobic jokes, slurs and ignorance in Catholic communities. This lends to the understanding that they will experience isolation and that they cannot trust or be safe in Catholic communities if they don’t pass as straight.
If you don’t address the cultural problem of prejudice and ignorance on your campus, you are not innocent of blame when hate crimes happen on your campus: you are complicit.
Transgender people may be in the closet to a lot of people at the beginning stages of their journey. They will remember all of the cruel words spoken on Catholic campuses, in the classrooms, lecture halls and dormitories. They are a group at high risk for suicide. Every single year there are transgender victims murdered for being trans. Yet the only time “traditionalist” Catholic groups mention them is when a bill is passed somewhere to give them access to public restrooms according to their self-identification. Misinformation continues to be spread about them, claiming that to be transgender is to be mentally ill, despite this being widely and continuously debunked by the actual American Board of Psychiatry.
Catholics are called to seek the truth, even when the truth is difficult and uncomfortable. Catholics are called to love all of their neighbors, not just the ones whom they understand. The Church condemns all persecution and hate crimes of people on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender expression. If you don’t address the cultural problem of prejudice and ignorance on your campus, you are not innocent of blame when hate crimes happen on your campus: you are complicit. Because if students are more afraid of being outed as lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, queer or asexual than other students are of actually beating, stalking, bullying, sexually harassing, assaulting, raping or murdering them, hate crimes are and already have happened on your campus.
During this month of the Sacred Heart, we all (especially colleges with particular devotion to the Sacred Heart) have a duty to show Christ to our LGBTQA+ brothers and sisters with charity and compassionate courage. Don’t show them the soldiers and Pharisees who crucified Christ. They have already seen them in enough Catholics.