Coalition membership grows

Jill Brower

The Gay-Straight Coalition, a newly formed organization on campus, held its first meeting on Sept. 16 to discuss the group’s goals and plans for the year. After holding one successful event last semester, it plans to expand this semester by sponsoring more programs and increasing membership.

“Our main goal is to educate and to let people know that homosexuality is not a choice. Nobody wants to live in fear,” junior Chris McMenemy, one of the group’s founding members, said.

Plans include a celebration during the week leading up to National Coming Out Day Oct. 11, which is during the University’s fall break, and a collaboration with Villanova Student Theater during its next performance, “The Laramie Project.”

The show, which will run Nov. 6-9 and 13-16, chronicles the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who died in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998.

“It’s a wonderful show and an incredible story,” Kathleen Byrnes, assistant vice president for Student Life, who heads the Gay-Straight Coalition, said.

“People think this sort of thing could never happen, but it did, and it helps to illustrate where hate can lead.”

After the performances, members of both groups will host a talk-back session to give information regarding hate crimes, legislation and statistics, as well as to answer questions from the audience.

The coalition’s membership has already increased since last semester, with over 30 students, faculty and staff members turning out for the first meeting. Students of all sexual orientations discussed ways to make their organization known on campus and how to educate the University community about sexual orientation issues.

“No one believes that gay people go here,” senior Mary Carty said. “We’re trying to establish a presence on campus and promote acceptance. It’s a challenge on this campus, but it looks promising.”

The group formed as a branch of Bisexuals, Gays and Lesbians of Villanova, the University’s only other organization that deals with issues of sexual orientation. McMenemy and several other students approached Byrnes last fall because they “felt it was important that there be an organization on campus that focused on educating the community to be more respectful to gay students,” McMenemy said.

Byrnes helped to move the group forward by including faculty and staff and talking with the adminstration who, she said, were very receptive and gave their unanimous support.

“Villanova really needed a group like this,” sophomore Cassidy Canzani said. “It’s important for people to know that it includes both gay people and straight people. It’s for people who are interested in the issue.”

The University’s Catholic affiliation did not hinder the formation of the group.

“We don’t advocate any sexual activity outside of marriage because we are a Catholic school,” Byrnes said. “But the Catholic Church and the Catholics on campus think being gay is the way God made you and it’s not a bad thing.”

The coalition hopes to be more successful than a former University group, the Committee for Sexual Inclusivity, by holding events and programs more frequently and making its presence more known around campus. The panel discussion “Out and About” last April featured three Villanova alumni and one graduate student sharing their experiences about coming out and drew a significant turnout.

Programs in the works for this year include the Safe Zone program, where resident assistants and other campus leaders are trained as a resource for anyone facing discrimination of any kind. A discreet sticker would be placed on the dorm room doors of those trained so that students in need could seek their guidance.

Other plans include discussion forums of national topics, such as the difficulties gay couples face with marriage and adoption.

“We have three goals: to help gay students have a voice on campus, to education the community about issues of sexual orientation and to combat homophobic attitudes,” Byrnes said.

“Ultimately, we want to make gay students feel as welcome into the community as we like to think we do for other students.

Byrnes also noted that the mission of the coalition coincides with the University’s mission statement, which focuses on mutual love and respect.

“The Augustinian ideal of respecting one another and of being educated in the mind and heart is at the very bottom of this issue,” she said.