11 La Salle Students Participate in Groundbreaking LGBTQ Symposium

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11 La Salle Students Participate in Groundbreaking LGBTQ Symposium

Christian Krantz and Payton Thompson

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On Wednesday, April 6th, 11 students and 3 staff members from La Salle participated in a groundbreaking LGBTQ symposium hosted at Central Catholic, addressing the question of “What does a school look like where everyone is given equal dignity?”

Students who identify as friends, allies or members of the LGBTQ community came from Catholic schools in the Portland area (La Salle, Jesuit, Central Catholic, St. Mary’s Academy, and Regis) to participate in the symposium. From La Salle, the three staff members accompanying the students were Mr. Devine, Ms. Giesemann, and Ms. Orr. 

We felt it was an important opportunity to build community with the other Catholic schools,” said Mr. Devine, La Salle’s Vice Principal for Student Life, in an interview about the symposium. The goal was “to seek an understanding of how other schools are approaching the LGBTQ issue and to make sure that our own students felt safe and supported.”

There were several main topics that were covered during the symposium. Students spoke about their desire for schools to respect that certain students may choose to identify by certain gender pronouns, as well as being able to take someone of the same sex to a dance. Some students also spoke about how they wanted the health curriculum at their school to include more information about homosexual relationships.

The Catholic Church’s view on homosexuals and same-sex relationships was another hot topic of conversation. The recent rescindment of a job-offer for a St. Mary’s counselor for being lesbian only made the discussion more intense.

“To me I think [the Church and gay-rights] can go hand in hand,” Jared Fontenette, junior at La Salle, said in an interview about one of the topics in the symposium. “Other people disagreed saying [that the Church] is anti-gay.”

While Jared acknowledged that there certainly are some sects of the church that are anti-gay, he believes that in the Catholic Church “there is a happy medium, that by supporting gay rights you are also supporting the will of Jesus.”       

Rayawnie Paris, senior, and Jared Fontenette, junior, both were among the 11 La Salle students attending the LGBTQ symposium at Central Catholic. For this article, they were asked to respond to the symposium’s guiding question, What does a school look like where everyone is given equal dignity? Here are their responses:

“Where everyone is accepted, no matter gender, race, disability, anything. It’s a school where you can come in every single day and know no one is going to judge you; you can study safely; you can have social activities safely; you can go to the bathroom safely. I think basically that means feeling welcomed and loved.” – Rayawnie Paris

“Eventually the goal is that we shouldn’t have to have all these symposiums and meetings… after all, it should just be that people are just treated equally, no matter their gender, race, sexuality, and all that stuff. But, you know, that’s a very poetic thing to say, and the reality is that these issues are going to be with us for hundreds of years. We’ve made a lot of great changes but at the same time there will always be a need to be a fighting voice for these minority groups. I would say that [the goal] is that if everyone is treated equally, it wouldn’t matter who dated who, who was friends with whom, it wouldn’t matter what the color of their skin was, or who they identified as. I think the more realistic approach should be that the school where everyone is showed dignity is where everyone can express their voice whether they’re gay, straight, white, yellow, green and have their voice and opinion heard and have their school work to accommodate everyone’s needs with everyone else’s.” – Jared Fontenette

One topic of discussion at the symposium was about the movement for schools to have single occupancy, also known as transgender-friendly, non-gender exclusive bathrooms. Central Catholic has already constructed single occupancy bathrooms to provide for those who may not identify with being specifically a male or female, or those who feel the need for more privacy.

With major new construction and facility upgrades planned for this summer, Mr. Devine says “we are planning to have single occupancy gender neutral bathrooms in the new Counseling Center that will be located in the current Main Office and also in the new Main Office that is being constructed this summer.” (Look for an upcoming Falconer article with complete details about these planned renovations coming soon.)

“La Salle is definitely committed to making sure that all of our students feel welcomed and included and honored in our community.  That’s a key part of our Lasallian mission,” Mr. Devine said. “If providing space and time for LGBTQ students and allies to gather can assure that we meet our mission then we are open to that. However, the most important part of that would be listening to student voice and meeting student needs within the context of the Catholic tradition.”

“I personally think La Salle does a good job,” Jared said, when asked if La Salle represents a school where everyone is given equal dignity. “There are other people who said that they feel differently, but I think the overall consensus was that since Mr. Kuffner became principal, La Salle has been more open.”

He referred to this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly, and how his ability to share his story, along with Rayawnie Paris, was an example of La Salle’s efforts to be more inclusive.

Rayawnie agreed, saying that “I think La Salle does a very good job of representing [my] vision” of an inclusive and welcoming school.

Ultimately, Mr. Devine says that “it is so important to me that our students feel heard and respected and know that we are constantly discerning how we can understand this issue better.”

Creative Commons photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mgifford/16552199100/