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Gay group carves out niche at Catholic University

This summer, Catholic University officials denied a request for a student group dedicated to changing the way gay students are welcomed, affirmed and protected on campus. Pictured, Lauren Crook, Robby Diesu and David Freerksen are members of the grassroots group CUAllies that meets weekly.
This summer, Catholic University officials denied a request for a student group dedicated to changing the way gay students are welcomed, affirmed and protected on campus. Pictured, Lauren Crook, Robby Diesu and David Freerksen are members of the grassroots group CUAllies that meets weekly. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009; 3:25 PM

Every Wednesday morning, 150 officials at Catholic University receive an e-mail about a gay student's struggles on campus.

There's a graduate student who doesn't mention her girlfriend to classmates or professors for fear of being lectured. An undergraduate who held her girlfriend's hand and was called an ugly name. Another student learned his roommate's mother tried to have her son reassigned when she learned he was gay.

Every Wednesday night, more than three dozen students gather to discuss what Catholic can do to welcome, affirm and protect its gay students, staff members and others.

So far, the administration has not been receptive to the group's Wednesday efforts. This summer they rejected an application from the group, CUAllies, to be an official student club. Doing so would have led to supporting an advocacy group for positions contrary to church teachings, Catholic spokesman Victor Nakas said in a statement.

"What else could be their purpose?" Nakas said.

Additionally, he said all students already have access to support services, such as the health center, counseling, public safety and campus ministry.

Still, CUAllies managed to build a presence and a member list this fall.

Although only approved student organizations can reserve space for meetings or events, all students have the right to gather informally on campus. Although only student organizations can advertise their meetings and events on campus bulletin boards, any student can tape a poster to his or her own door in the dorms or wear the group's signature blue T-shirts.

"We might not be an official group, but we're winning," said Robby Diesu, a senior political theory major from New York who is a founder of the group. "We have our own community. . . . It's empowering."

But the group has a self-imposed list of topics that are off-limits: pre-marital sex, gay sex, birth control, gay marriage and behavior not permitted by the Catholic church.

Despite the university's refusal to sanction the group, the students say they want to respect the campus's conservative nature and rules. Instead, they focus on helping gay students who are trying to navigate campus and educating the rest of the student body about gay issues.

"Everything that we are doing, it's Catholic, it's what the church is about," said David Freerksen, a junior economics major from Delaware who came out in middle school and converted to Catholicism in high school because of the religion's emphasis on community service.


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