Photo by Zachariah Bryan
Katie, a recent graduate of a Seattle-area Catholic High School, said having an informal Gay Straight Alliance club helped her immensely. Having the club officially recognized could help even more people, she argues.

LGBTQ Catholic school students fight to get club recognition

LGBTQ students and allies in Catholic high schools in the Seattle area are beginning to speak out, demanding the ability to form official on-campus groups, or Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs.

While in many cases students have already formed underground GSA clubs in Catholic schools across the country, the ability to meet is compromised when students cannot talk about it aloud.

“It’s important to have that support and have that community of people you know you can always go to when you’re having a bad day,” said Katie, a recent graduate of a high school where she helped found a GSA group. To avoid endangering the school’s accreditation, the Ballard News-Tribune is not naming the school.

Katie said she had a relatively positive experience when she came out as gay around the age of 15. Friends accepted her and her family caused no fuss, except her mom wanted her to stop dressing like a tomboy. When she showed up to chat with the Ballard News-Tribune, she was clad in jeans and a Russell Wilson #3 Seahawks Jersey.

“She got over that within a week,” Katie laughed. “I was totally fine.”

Still, when she did discover that she was gay, Katie said she didn’t know what to do, or who to go to.

“Finding students like you is just encouraging. It’s a scary time, 15 year old. I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic since kindergarten. I just wasn’t educated,” Katie said.

She said the same is true of many LGBTQ freshmen and sophomores in Catholic school settings. Moreover, it was hard for the underground, unofficial GSA to find potentially LGBTQ students who were in need of help and support.

“It’s hard to get freshmen,” Katie recounted. “You really have to target them and say ‘Hey! I think you might be gay, join our group!’”

Furthermore, where they meet can be fluid. In the beginning at least, they met off campus a lot. Now the GSA will meet on campus, but it wouldn’t look like anything more than a group of people just hanging out and chatting after school in a classroom or in the cafeteria – and for all intents and purposes, that’s all it is.

“As unofficial as you could be,” Katie said.

Having an official GSA club would have a lot of benefits, Katie said.

“I think it would just help because it would be just like coming out. You can tell the school, you can do more school-wide things, things that would help like the day of silence, national coming out day,” she said. “You wouldn’t have to worry about somebody finding out and having (the club) shut down.”

Lastly, there is just something comforting about being able to relate to people the same age.

“People say, ‘Oh, you know you just go to one of the school counselors. But it’s just different to talk to some 30-someodd-year-old compared to a group of kids your own age,” Katie said.

To allow official GSA groups on Catholic campuses in Seattle, though, it’s not simply a matter of swaying the principal or the district. One has to get the blessing, so to speak, of the Seattle Archdiocese, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

To spread the word and attempt to put the pressure on Sartain, Katie and her friend Audrey, who is still in school, have started a Change.org petition and have lobbied to have people call and email Sartain.

So far the petition has reached 509 signatures. It can be found at http://www.change.org/petitions/archdiocese-of-seattle-allow-gay-straigh...

“I believe that everyone deserves the chance to be able to participate in school clubs, and the fact that so many teens in the Seattle area are being denied these rights is shameful,” reads a comment by Mariah DeWeese.

“I want my friends and peers to be able to feel proud to love who they love wherever they are, including at school. It's as simple as that,” reads another, by Lynne Goodrich.

As of press time, Sartain has not given a response to either students or The Ballard News-Tribune on the matter.

Katie was understanding in that the Archdiocese is bound by his Catholicism and what is generally taught. But at the same time she said GSA members weren’t doing anything necessarily against the teachings.

Expressing a little of her frustration over the matter, Katie chalked it up as a form of discrimination.

“You can’t have a club because you’re gay,” Katie said. “It looks like discrimination. I don’t understand their reasoning.”

Still, Katie said that her experience being gay in a Catholic school was not all that dramatic. She never experienced any of the cruelty and gay bullying found in higher profile cases that have been spotlighted by the media around the country.

“Overall, I had a pretty positive experience with teachers and students,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of hate. I wouldn’t even say there’s a lot of homophobia.”

Nonetheless, her positive experience could have been a lot worse if she didn’t find friends like Audrey.

“You need the support,” Katie said. “You need the openness.”

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