Emboldened by their recent high-profile protest of plans to bring Chick-fil-A to campus, Duquesne University’s gay-straight alliance announced that after several years of inactivity, their LGBT organization, Lambda, is “functional again” and committed to creating an inclusive community to help make LGBT students “feel comfortable” on campus. Duquesne’s Vice President of Student Life Douglas Frizzell seemed to agree with this as he told a reporter for the campus newspaper, The Duquesne Duke, that “whenever LGBT students are made to feel unsafe or unwelcomed, the offending parties are going to be held accountable.” Frizzell added that although “you’re going to have some members of the Duquesne community that are not going to be open to diversity,” he claims to want to hear more from LGBT students about “what can we do to make them feel comfortable.”
Making everyone “feel comfortable” may be more difficult than Frizzell realizes. While many Duquesne students welcomed the Chick-fil-A dining option, the LGBT community is most unhappy—and they are well-organized. The protest was proposed by Lambda executive board member, Niko Martini, a Duquesne student and “Senator at Large”. According to campus newspaper reports, Martini proposed that the Student Government Association pass a resolution asking the university to reconsider the inclusion of Chick-fil-A as a dining option for students: “Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights. I think it’s imperative the university chooses to do business with organizations that coincide with the university’s mission and expectations they give students regarding diversity and inclusion.”
Martini, in his attack on the restaurant chain, is referring to the fact that Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy stated in a 2012 interview that the company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.” This, of course, is the same definition of the family taught and upheld by the Catholic Church. But, that Catholic definition has become a problem for the gay-straight alliance at the Catholic university in Pittsburgh (established in 1878 as Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit) because it makes them feel “uncomfortable” and “unsafe”. Martini is joined in his protests by Lambda President, Rachel Coury, the primary spokesperson for the Duquesne Chick-fil-A protest. So concerned is she about the possibility of a Chick-fil-A dining option, Coury warns that a Chick-fil-A will actually make LGBT students feel “unsafe”. Court told the Duquesne Duke that she worries that the safety provided by her Gay-Straight Alliance might be in jeopardy: “I’ve tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. So, I fear that with the Chick-fil-A being in Options [Food Court] that maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk…It would be a really big deal for Lambda and the whole LGBT community on campus if someone could make a statement to eliminate the fear of being marginalized by having this business on campus”
While Duquesne’s Student Government Association did not pass the resolution that Martini and Coury were requesting, it did agree to consider an alternate resolution to continue to investigate Chick-fil-A and further discussions about allaying concerns about the dining option. Considering the fact that the original decision to add a Chick-fil-A was “a response to student feedback” and requests for the restaurant option, it will be difficult to deny the inclusion of the restaurant—especially considering, again, that the “offensive beliefs” about support for traditional marriage that Lambda leaders are referring to are the same beliefs found in official Catholic teachings on marriage.
In addition to the CEO’s support for traditional marriage, Coury claims that the company has a history of supporting “anti-gay organizations.” But Chick-fil-A spokesperson Amanda Hannah informed the University that they have ceased giving donations to the pro-family organizations Focus on the Family and Exodus International—the latter an organization designed to help individuals leave the GLBTQ lifestyle. According to Hannah, the company’s philanthropic program focuses only on youth and education: “Programs with social or political agendas are not including in that giving.”
But, the protestors are unpersuaded because Chick-fil-A gave over a million dollars to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2014—a Christian group that has a “sexual purity statement” that disallows what the FCA calls “sexual sin” including heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. These are the same teachings that the Catholic Church promotes—presumably even on the Duquesne campus.
Which brings us to the real problem: Lambda students may not realize that they are on a Catholic campus that is mandated to support Catholic teachings on non-negotiable issues including upholding the sacredness of marriage between one man and one woman, and the respect for life from conception until natural death. Of course, these students may be forgiven for not realizing that when one looks closely at how Duquesne’s own faculty leaders and how the school has often honored those who do not support Catholic teachings on life. For example, Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of Duquesne University Law School and co-chair of Catholics for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 promoted the preposterous assertion that in 2012 Barack Obama was the “only true pro-life candidate for president.” And in an August 10, 2012 article for National Catholic Reporter, Carfardi stated, “Obama’s Affordable Care Act does not pay for abortion.” This incredible statement was made after four years of the Obama administration’s expansion of abortion here and abroad—including the president’s executive order overturning the Mexico City Policy which had banned funding for international family planning group that provide abortion related services overseas, as well as the HHS contraceptive mandate requiring Catholic colleges like Duquesne University to provide free contraceptive care to all employees, including abortion-inducing drugs.
Duquesne University has the same problem as many other Catholic institutions of higher education. Students may not know or even be told what the Church teachings are on life issues, marriage, sexuality, and family. While the Church teaches all Catholics to accept all persons as children of God, it also clearly teaches that homosexual acts are disordered and can never be supported. It is unlikely that the Duquesne gay-straight alliance will be promoting that teaching. While Lambda organizers such as Niko Martini complain that Duquesne is “not as accepting as Pitt or Point Park,” and suggests that Lambda should “team up with other gay-straight alliances in the area, such as the University of Pittsburgh’s GSA,” Martini and Coury do not seem to realize that while the mission of a Catholic campus is to respect the dignity of all of its students—including those who experience same sex attraction—the university can never accept homosexual acts in the same way other secular campuses can. This truth may make these students feel “uncomfortable,” but denying a Chick-fil-A on campus will do little to lessen their discomfort.