Breaking through the silence

Anna Hadjitheodosiou

“Yo, that’s so gay.” It is not uncommon to hear this phrase around Villanova’s campus in reference to something that a student doesn’t like. Most don’t realize how hurtful this seemingly innocent remark can be, but for homosexual students, this phrase is the equivalent of a racial slur, and it cuts deeply.As the advisor for Villanova’s Gay-Straight Coalition, an educational program dedicated to ending homophobia on Villanova’s campus, Rev. Joseph Calderone, O.S.A., understands this better than anyone. In his four years here at Villanova he has led the group – which consists of both gay and straight students – in raising campus consciousness and sensitivity to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students.The GSC accomplishes this goal in many ways. It hosts panel discussions with professors and qualified professionals, as well as movie screenings and an annual retreat for LBGT students and their allies. Additionally, Father Joe, as he prefers to be called, says that professors often ask members of the GSC to come to their classes and give guest lectures on acceptance of sexual orientation.Most recently, on April 18, the Coalition and over 100 of its supporters took part in the Day of Silence, a national youth-run effort to protest the actual silencing of LGBT individuals due to harassment, bias and abuse in schools. Over 150 GSC members and supporters participated, sporting T-shirts and educating their peers about the issue of homophobia in our community.Father Joe and the GSC are on a mission to change the way homosexuality is addressed by students at Villanova. They strive to help students grow and realize there is a broader reality: that each person should be treated with the same kindness and respect regardless of sexual orientation. He points out that although administrators and faculty tend to be extremely supportive of LGBT students, the general student population is less accepting of same-sex orientation.While there have not been any hate crimes against LGBT students at Villanova, ignorance and insensitivity are still major issues. “It’s a matter of accepting ourselves and others,” Father Joe says with a look of paternal concern. “We need to be nonjudgmental; we need to be open-minded.”Father Joe’s warm and personable nature is what earned him his position of advisor to the GSC in the first place. A good speaker and an even better listener, he is a friendly but frank man who exemplifies the open-mindedness and understanding the group is all about.”We need to be aware that many people are different,” he says. “Once we do that, we can be sensitive to other people, and that is what Augustinian values are all about. Veritas, unitas, caritas: it’s all about community and friendship.”Some might find it contradictory to say that GSC embodies Christian values, but Father Joe insists that it is not. He refers instead to a “dynamic tension” between two teachings of the Catholic Church: homosexuality is wrong if acted upon, but we must follow our hearts and remain true to ourselves. Additionally, he points out that the Church has said that sexual expression is immoral for any couple outside of marriage, whether that couple is homosexual or heterosexual. He also says that the Church has acknowledged that sexual orientation is not an individual choice but a basic component in a person’s makeup.For Father Joe, the most rewarding part of working with the GSC is knowing that he is truly following Jesus. “Jesus helped everyone – not just the mainstream but also the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the vulnerable,” he says. “Understanding and accepting one another – that’s really what this university is all about.”