By Tom Miller, Interim Managing Editor, Gonzaga News Service & Kate Vanskike-Bunch, Senior Director of Content Strategy & Publications at Gonzaga University
When Zoe Jaspers first came to Gonzaga University, they questioned their gender identity and were nervous about what that meant entering a Catholic institution, even though they found its faith tradition appealing. Fortunately, Gonzaga community members embraced Jaspers in that period of questioning.
Jaspers, who uses the pronoun ‘they,’ participated in events with the University’s Lincoln LGBTQ+ Resource Center, including a national conference in Washington, D.C. In their senior year, Jaspers found even greater support during a Mission & Ministry retreat, where they connected with campus minister, Rev. Janeen Steer.
“Janeen was aggressively supportive of my journey and me,” said Jaspers. “I went from not being involved with Mission & Ministry to practically living in its office. It was my home.”
Jaspers said that it was through the ministry staff where they felt most affirmed, even more so than in the Queer Student Union. They explained, “I can’t have my faith without my queerness and transness, and I cannot fully understand my transness and queerness without my faith.”
Building a Network of Allies
In 2004, the Lincoln LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Gonzaga became the first such hub at a U.S. Jesuit college or university to support students, staff and faculty who identify as LGBTQ+ or who wish to be allies. These efforts are now bolstered by the addition of Gonzaga Law School’s Lincoln LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic, which began operating in August 2020.
The two entities have collaborated on such projects as a law panel discussing Bostock v. Clayton County, a landmark civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender. About 50 people attended the event.
Cooperation between the center and the clinic, both named for alumnus and donor Joe Lincoln, mirrors other campus efforts. “Active partnerships are very much a part of the Gonzaga ethos,” said Deena González, provost and senior vice president. “We see this in the ways that Academic Affairs and Student Affairs work together in co-curricular activities, and in stretching the learning environment across many areas of the university.
“We see staff supporting student LGBTQ+ initiatives, we see multicultural clubs and groups being supportive and inclusive of LGBTQ+ members, and we are beginning to witness what U.S. popular culture, in normalizing LGBTQ+ characters, has done to introduce everyone to cultures and communities that are diverse and still struggling with misrepresentation or stereotyping.”
Matthew Barcus, program manager for LGBTQ+ education and support at the resource center, highlighted the annual Lavender Mass, previously known as the Mass of Compassion, as one of the center’s three key initiatives. Its focus is on creating an inclusive faith space that has connected the center with Mission and Ministry and campus Jesuits for more than ten years.
“We host this Mass around National Coming Out Day each October to show that our Jesuit, Catholic identity does not limit us from being LGBTQ+ affirming,” said Barcus, the first full-time staff member dedicated to the program when he was hired in 2016.
Another program is the monthly “Out to Lunch with Allies,” in which campus community members are invited to connect over a meal. It features a topic presented by a center staff member or an intern, followed by discussion.
Barcus cited gender-inclusive campus work as a third highlight. He said, “Over the last six years, we have collaborated to create housing questions to best match students with roommates and housing spaces. We added an option to include pronouns on staff and faculty business cards and e-mail signatures. We also developed a chosen-name policy for rosters, advising, and the campus directory.”
Barcus notes that there is more work to be done. He said, “We are committed to creating a campus where everyone can be recognized and validated for who they are in a holistic way, striving for our goal of belonging for folks of diverse gender identities and expressions.”
On the Legal Front
At the law clinic, Professor Gail Hammer and students work with individual clients; conduct policy research that results in briefs; and develop educational materials and offer presentations, in addition to collaborating with local, regional and national organizations. They have assisted with anti-harassment protection orders for couples with abusive neighbors; advised on wills and powers of attorney for couples and individuals; worked on an employment discrimination case; and assisted with changes to ID and birth certificate documents.
The clinic has also researched and written many briefs, such as one for Legal Voice on the standards that apply to Washington prisons and jails for medical treatment of transgender people, and its study of recent calls to dismantle the child welfare system, noting several ways that LGBTQ+ people are affected. The clinic also writes and distributes “Know Your Rights” articles and has advised medical providers on protocols for interacting with LGBTQ+ patients.
Feedback undergirds Professor Hammer’s confidence that the Lincoln LGBTQ+ Clinic provides significant value to the community and clients it serves, and to the students enrolled in it. “I hear expressions of gratitude and appreciation daily, from students, from organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community, and from clients,” said Hammer. “It is a joy to work with the inspired and dedicated students.”
Tied to Mission
Not all of the feedback on the campus initiatives is appreciation, and the University engages in conversation with critics.
“Here at Gonzaga, we care deeply about our mission, including the many ways we seek to provide a transformative educational experience for our students, advance a culture of inclusion, and make God’s abundant love visible in our community and in the world,” said Michelle Wheatley, vice president for mission integration.
González, the provost, also sees the work of the two resource entities as central to Gonzaga’s mission. She said, “These conversations, discussions, debates, interventions and research efforts help us to create spaces and structures designed to move the needle on justice for all maligned groups, but also afford an opportunity to do what we, as a university, proudly uphold as our learning capacities.
“We learn from one another, whether similar or different in histories, backgrounds or cultures. This defines us as a university, that is, our tolerance for difference and our recognition of it, as we also see our commonalities.”