LMU Panel Debates Ruling on Gay Group : Colleges: Professors, students discuss ethical, theological concerns after Loyola Marymount University president denies recognition to small student alliance.


More than 100 Loyola Marymount University students attended a campus forum Tuesday on homosexuality that took the theological and ethical measure of the school president's decision last week to deny recognition to a club for gay and lesbian students.

The forum, sponsored by the Student Housing Office and led by a panel of professors and students, discussed the church's teachings on homosexuality and heard students question the ruling that went against the Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.

Susan Rabe, a professor of church history and one of five members on the panel, said a question defines the fundamental problem: "What is it about this issue that is so threatening? It has been my experience personally and as a historian . . . that when high emotion surfaces over issues it says a great deal more about the people who are rejecting groups than it does about groups themselves."

The problem confronting the campus is one of "prejudice, rumor, false accusation, questions of human dignity, of civil rights and ignorance," she said.

Rabe also said she was disturbed by "violence in the words . . . and in the attitudes" among some students toward gays and lesbians.

The 12-member alliance was formed last spring in an off-campus apartment. This year, the group sought official recognition from the university, including the right to meet on campus. University President James N. Loughran last week denied the group official recognition, but granted them access to campus facilities and support services.

The decision was announced in a brief unsigned statement issued by the university's public relations office, and was accompanied by a two-page press release. It said the university cannot condone "a sexually active, homosexual life style" but should "support those among us who happen to be homosexual."

Alliance president James Munselle, one of the five panelists, told the forum that the group is disappointed by Loughran's decision.

"We believe all people have a right not to be invisible, not to be segregated, not to be distinguished from other people as inferior," Munselle said.

Panelist Father Michael O'Sullivan, a Jesuit priest who said he supported the group's right to meet on campus, was asked as a theologian to explain church policy on homosexuality. He said the Catholic Church does not condemn homosexual orientation and in fact "supports gays and lesbians in terms of people who are a minority who suffer prejudice, who suffer discrimination."

But, he added, "the church does condemn homosexual genital sexual activity" because it takes place outside of marriage and because, "by its nature it cannot lead to procreation."

Senior Brad Collins, a panel member who earlier this month voted against a student senate resolution supporting the group, said he was disappointed that the panel was not more representative of the campus. He was the only panelist who supported Loughran.

"I would hope future forums would be a little more evenly balanced," Collins said. "I know there are people who have very different opinions than were represented today."

One student asked the panel members to speculate why Loughran denied the group recognition, but panel members declined. Munselle urged students to write or call the president's office asking for an explanation.

Another student supposed that the university "said no because the (gay) group isn't treating homosexuality as a sin."

Rabe pointed out, however, that the church sees any sex outside of marriage--even gay sex-- as a sin. Homosexuality itself is not a sin, she said, as shown by the church's permitting homosexuals to be priests if they take a vow of celibacy.

Other panel members also said the issue of sin couldn't be the deciding one because other campus clubs are not asked whether their beliefs conform with church policy.

"Does Air Force ROTC discuss whether killing is a sin?" O'Sullivan asked. He said other campus clubs are not required to state whether their members have sex outside of marriage, which the church views as sinful.

Travis Lawmaster, a member of the student senate who voted against the club, said the panel had not addressed the counseling needs of individual gays, especially those who want to refrain from homosexual sex.

He said gays need to accept Christ and the word of the Bible, which allows celibacy or sex within heterosexual marriage. Lawmaster questioned whether the club could "match up with these alternatives," which would open the way for it to be permitted on campus.

But Munselle responded that alliance group members are not confused about their homosexuality. "That's not this club," he said. "This is a group of people struggling with discrimination," he said. Homosexual students seeking spiritual or psychological guidance would be referred to counselors, he said.

Michael Doyle, director of counseling services who was also on the panel, said gay students who are facing spiritual crisis "find it very difficult to find answers when the consistent message they hear from the church is negative. That's not the church's stance, but that's the message they hear in statements like this one that Father Loughran has issued."

Since Loughran's decision, attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Munselle, has sent the president a letter asking him to meet with the group. Allred criticized the university's statement, which said the university "cannot endorse or condone, or appear to endorse or condone a sexually active, homosexual life style."

Munselle argued that the group's purpose, as stated in its constitution, is to educate and to support the human rights of its members.

Allred and members of both the undergraduate and law school gay students' alliances said they will picket Loughran's office today because the statement was "issued by some nameless and faceless individual" and was not signed by Loughran. Allred said they will seek an explanation from Loughran of why he rejected the group's application.

Panel members discussed the possibility of holding more forums, and some students agreed it seems a good idea.

"People don't know what the real issues are," one student told the panel. "I came here with questions and after hearing the discussion, I think the club should be approved."

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