Catholic University told a student group this week to postpone a screening of the movie “Milk,” about gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, after officials raised questions about a flier linking the event to LGBT awareness month.
The episode underscored tensions that sometimes arise over social issues and Catholic doctrine at a university with direct ties to the Vatican. Catholicism teaches that gays and lesbians as individuals are fully accepted by God but that their sexual relationships are sinful. Pope Francis has sought to take a nonconfrontational stance, telling a reporter last year who asked about homosexuality: “Who am I to judge?”
A chapter of the College Democrats at Catholic had planned the movie event, dubbed “Milk and Cookies,” for Wednesday evening on the campus in Northeast Washington.
“Kick off LGBT awareness month with The CUA College Democrats!” said the promotional flier. Also on the flier were images of a rainbow flag, symbolizing gay pride, and the actor Sean Penn, who starred in the 2008 movie.
Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials, was a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978. The movie about his life earned eight Oscar nominations, including for best picture. It won two Oscars — for best original screenplay and for Penn as a leading actor.
On Wednesday morning, a Catholic student affairs official who had seen the flier called the group and asked it hold off on the event. University spokesman Victor Nakas said Thursday the connection to a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender awareness month took officials by surprise.
“For university administrators, it called into question whether the event had changed in nature from one of education to one of advocacy,” Nakas said in a statement. “Given the confusion caused by the advertising, the Office of the Dean of Students contacted the College Democrats to postpone the event.”
Nakas added: “The Director of Campus Activities is working with the College Democrats to review the program request to ensure that the program is presented as an educational event, as originally planned. It is our expectation that it will be rescheduled for later in October.”
The chapter of the College Democrats apologized in a statement for what it called a “miscommunication” about the event. It did not elaborate on what the miscommunication was. But the group said it “had no intention of undermining the administration or holding an event that went against school policies. We simply wanted to commemorate an important political event in American history.”
The group said it would seek to clear up any confusion and schedule the event for a future date.
Jackson Tovar, 19, a sophomore from Ventura, Calif., who is active in College Democrats, said he was upset at the school’s intervention. “I’m still confused and still disappointed in my university that an event like this cannot go on for the reason that it says ‘LGBT awareness month,’ ” he said.
Tovar said the group had expected perhaps a few dozen people to show up at the event. “It was open for everyone,” he said.
Asked for the university’s position on the LGBT awareness month, Nakas said he would need to know more about it to answer the question.
Nakas said it was important to note that the “Milk” event had not been canceled. He said that “the theme of the program” appeared to be different than what organizers had originally explained to the university. “We need to sit down and have a discussion and revisit this,” he said.