by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
At approximately 6:00 p.m. on Friday, March 23, close to 200 students gathered outside the front doors of the Slavin Center for a March Against Transphobia and Homophobia at Providence College.
The march was organized by SHEPARD, a student organization and support group for members of the LGBTQ+ community. SHEPARD’s overall mission is to build a safe, welcoming environment within the club and larger PC community. The executive board of the club invited panelists to speak at the end of the march in the Ruane Center for the Humanities, which included Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, Tiffany Gaffney ’03, assistant dean of students, and Dr. Christopher Arroyo, associate professor of philosophy.
The PC community was invited to the march via an informational email sent by Mallari Bosque ’18, SHEPARD president. “Please stand with Shepard in solidarity with love and respect,” the email stated. “The purpose of this march is to affirm LGBTQ+ members of the Providence College community and to recognize their experiences of homophobia and transphobia as valid.”
Many assumed that the march was a reaction to the recent bulletin board that was hung in St. Joseph Hall that said, “Marriage, the Way God Intended It,” promoting the Catholic Church’s doctrine on marriage as being between one man and one woman. For more on that story, please refer to the following link: https://www.thecowl.com/featured/bulletin-board-controversy.
Michael Smalanskas ’18, the resident assistant who put the bulletin board up on his floor, stated that he too thought the march was organized in reaction to that said board. “Many have considered my bulletin board homophobic and an act of hate speech,” he said, explaining that to support traditional marriage is in no way to be homophobic. “People are free to protest, but there should be a basic understanding from students and faculty at this college that Catholic beliefs are not hate speech.”
In an email to student leaders including members of the Board Multicultural Student Affairs, Student Congress, and Residence Life, Goodwin acknowledged the bulletin board controversy and said, “I believe we need to treat each other with respect at all times.” She went on to explain that she hopes the community would join her in being open to dialogue so that it can be informed and effective “allies and educators,” and said a way to do that was to walk in solidarity with SHEPARD “promoting unity, affirmation, and inclusion even amidst controversy.”
As participants gathered, students distributed rainbow stickers that said, “Hate is Not a PC Value.” Others held signs with messages such as “Love is Love,” “If God Hates Gays Why’d He Make Us So Cute,” “Jesus Had Two Dads and He Turned Out Fine,” and “Ignorance is Often Disguised as Tradition.”
“Do not engage in negative behavior,” said Bosque before the march commenced, also explaining that the marchers were not calling for action, but rather standing and marching out of solidarity and love. “Every person deserves equal amounts of respect,” she said. “We are not making demands, we just want to be heard, recognized, and loved.”
From Slavin, the marchers moved towards Raymond Dining Hall by passing McVinney and Moore Hall. From there, they marched around the Smith Quad after passing the Ryan Center, and went though Glay parking lot and up the Guzman stairs before entering into Ruane. All the while, marchers chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, queer people are welcomed here,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia has got to go.”
At the conclusion of the march, many students filed into into Ruane 105 where each speaker was given a chance to share and reflect.
After Bosque spoke, Goodwin took the podium and emphasized that she welcomes feedback, especially when it is feedback given for the sake of helping others. She also talked about the social work her mother did with transgender individuals and explained that the church she wants to be part of is the kind of church that includes everyone.
Dr. Arroyo acknowledged the SHEPARD executive board for the work they did in organizing the march, and also stated he wished to not misconstrue what was happening at the march. “This is not dismissing Catholic teaching as homophobic, or attempting to stop free speech, or trying to go against Catholic teaching,” he said, explaining that this should not be a two sided argument of Catholics versus the side of the LGBTQ+ community. “Disagreements should not lead us to despair of resolving them.”
After discussing the meaning behind PC’s mission of Veritas, or the truth, he insisted the truth must be used to guide the College in these difficult times. “The spirit of the march is to identify truths,” he said. “Some members in our community identify as LGBTQ+, and they’re students who are equal and full members deserving of respect and love.”
When Dean Gaffney spoke, she acknowledged that though it states very clearly in the College’s policies that it does not discriminate based off of race, gender, or sexuality, the fact of the matter is that not all members of the PC community necessarily live this experience. “Plus, we must be honest with ourselves, when we say we are here for the LGBTQ+ community, we don’t know who they all are, and that is a truth we must acknowledge,” she said.
She then explained that when people are silent, they leave room for assumption. “We are all here for our own personal intentions,” she said. “I am not here because of a bulletin board, I am here because I am unapologetically an ally.”
Dean Gaffney then explained that ally-ship is not to be taken lightly, as it is an “intentional commitment to be there for and with others.” “I am unapologetically Catholic, and it is because of my faith that I am an ally,” she said. “If you think that we’re here just because of a bulletin board, you aren’t paying attention.”
“Some members of the LGBTQ+ community identify as Catholic,” said Dr. Arroyo, who then stated that homophobia and transphobia have no place at a Catholic institution. “We must insist that affirming the equal dignity of all human beings in what we say and what we do affirms our mission of a Catholic college.”
Other speakers included Dr. Jonathan Dator, staff psychologist at the Personal Counseling Center, Cate Latz of the Office of Institutional Advancement, and Kendra Brewster a professor in the public and community service department.