2 min

Queering the Catholics

Group misses deadline for funding

A fledgling gay group at University Of Toronto’s Catholic college might have to wait until next year to get officially approved.

Last week Bernie Fitzpatrick, president of the group Queer At St Mike’s College, handed in the application to be officially recognized. If it’s accepted, the group will receive as much as $500 from the student union and official status on the campus, allowing it to put up posters and use college space for activities.

But the student union club recognition board might not be meeting in January, as Fitzpatrick expected. That means waiting 11 months before the application can be processed.

“I’m going to be pushing for them to meet,” says Fitzpatrick, who says there’s a need for the support such a group can provide. “Queer students are isolated here because it’s such an isolated environment. The group allows members to get familiar with resources, get to know other gay students and get involved in important things politically.”

Though the group formed last January, getting approved has been a tough slog. In order for a club at St Mike’s to be recognized it must have a constitution and a budget. It also must get signatures from two religious orders at the college and three alumni, as well as signatures from 30 students at St Mike’s.

College chaplain Father Terry Kersch is a part of a religious order at St Mike’s and signed on the group’s behalf. He has no problem recognizing a gay and lesbian group.

“I did sign off on the petition,” says Kersch. “A gay and lesbian group is not necessarily against the Catholic religion. They are a marginalized group here and I’m required by my religion to stand on the side of the marginalized. They’re fighting against prejudice.”

The college’s education and government commissioner Florina Xhabija, who is in charge of approving the application, hasn’t seen the constitution yet.

“Clubs must stand for and not reject the beliefs of the college, and for this club in particular, they have to abide by the beliefs of the college,” she says. “We don’t ask students to believe this, but you can’t promote the college’s beliefs in a negative way.”

Catholic church doctrine states that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and prohibits homosexual behaviour. During the 2001 orientation week, rainbow triangle stickers – which signify a gay-positive space – were removed from frosh kits at the college.

There has also been concerns over whether the group has to submit the names of its members in order to get approved. Fitzpatrick said such a list would be forcing queer students to come out.

But Xhabija says that’s not a concern, though, in addition to the signatures of 30 St Mike’s students, the group does needs the signature of 25 additional students attending the University Of Toronto. The students don’t have to be members of the group.

Fitzpatrick says the group also received support from the new college principal, Mark McGowan.

“It was difficult to get the group going at first because people didn’t know what we were about,” Fitzpatrick says. “I think other groups have an easier time getting things done because there was a fear we were an anti-Catholic group.”

“It’s much more intimidating to be in a homophobic environment because there’s a chance you could be harassed for it. St Mike’s is a progressing environment but there’s more homophobia here than in other University Of Toronto colleges.”

The group aims to provide a safe social space for queer students and to advocate politically for gay and lesbian issues. In addition, it acts as a liaison between school administration and students when dealing with harassment. Socially it has a monthly discussion group and one social event per month.