February 27th, 2013 By ENID SPITZ | Arts & Books |

At Portland’s Catholic University, Students Challenge President on Gay Rights

caseyandersonCasey Anderson
When the University of Portland president gives his annual fireside chat he's looking for conversation, not controversy. But when president Fr. William Beauchamp spoke on Monday, Feb. 18, he—perhaps accidentally—ignited a gay rights fight on the Catholic campus.

I'm a senior at UP, and this is the most charged I've ever seen campus.

The battle centers on UP’s nondiscrimination policy, which does not mention sexual orientation. A student at the chat asked Beauchamp about UP’s policy on staff in same-sex relationships. “They are not public about it and we don’t ask them,” Beauchamp said. “But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue then we would have trouble.” These remarks provoked a storm, and students and community members plan to protest the University’s nondiscrimination policy at a campus demonstration Thursday from 12-2 pm at the school's Academic Quad.

Within days of Beauchamp’s chat, a new “Redefine Purple Pride” group gained 820 members on Facebook, a change.org petition advocating LGBTQ inclusion at UP reached its 1,000-signature goal and the University’s mailbox received an influx of sharp correspondence.

“How can our school say that we are in line with Catholic Social Teaching and creating an environment for students and staff where human dignity is respected, if we keep choosing to exclude LGBTQ people from equal protection under the University's woefully inadequate Non-Discrimination Policy?” wrote Kate Purdy, a senior nursing student, on the petition.

Though official policy fails to mention sexual orientation, it's incorporated into a Statement of Inclusion accepted in 2011 by the Board of Regents, as noted by Beauchamp at the fireside chat. That statement, though, is legally insignificant and non-binding. As The Beacon, UP’s student-run paper (published by Beauchamp), reported after the chat: “Beauchamp said if UP added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy, it could be interpreted in courts to include sexual practices in addition to sexual orientation. This could legally require UP to condone sexual practices not accepted by the Catholic Church.”

Student responses have included a photography campaign of undergraduates, mouths taped over, standing before an equality flag. Senior Casey Anderson opened his house to volunteer models last weekend; the result is about 70 faces staring at Beauchamp and the administration. YouTube videos, one collecting dozens of statements beginning “I am standing up because...” appeared. That one ends with: “We the students of the University of Portland hold these truths to be self-evident that...all Pilots are created equal.” On Facebook, hundreds of students have changed their profile photos to a purple equal sign.

According to Beauchamp, it’s all a misunderstanding. In his letter to the community, sent Thursday, Feb. 21, he stressed that, “as a priest and your president, please know that nothing is more important to me than honoring the dignity of each and every member of this campus community.”

The protesters aren’t comforted. “No minority—race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other—should ever have to answer to oppression,” said alum Brian Burger. “It would be the same to refuse to protect a woman or African-American from discrimination because they had the gall to be born female or black.”
 
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