By Camille Shira Angel and Jane Bleasdale, University of San Francisco
In its newly revised mission statement, the University of San Francisco (USF) includes sexual orientation and gender as two of the many identities of community members that are now acknowledged and affirmed publicly. Many people in the USF community have shared that now, for the first time, they feel recognized and can connect to the University’s mission.
The new mission statement is just one of many ways that faculty and staff at USF are working to welcome, celebrate and support the LGBTQIA+ community. Here, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel and Dr. Jane Bleasdale discuss those efforts for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Undergraduate: Rabbi Camille Shira Angel
I believe the path toward pride, visibility and audibility for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) people is complicated by a reality that other marginalized people do not face: the official teaching of the Catholic Church, to which Jesuit colleges and universities are linked in heritage and choice.
When it comes to faith, many LGBTQIA+ people feel torn. Some connect to their religious, ethnic, and cultural communities while denying their gender identities and sexuality. Others join an American LGBTQIA+ community that is White/Anglo-dominant and hostile to overt expressions of faith and spiritual longing. At USF, where I am Rabbi-in-Residence, most people have never met a woman rabbi, let alone a Lesbian rabbi, who teaches two classes in which LGBTQIA+ people incorporate religion in their lives.
In my class called Queering Religion, I explore how LGBTQIA+ people navigate religions that have often attempted to negate them. In the class called Honoring Our LGTBQIA+ Religious Elders, I pair students with LGBTQIA+ religious-identified adults, 65+ years of age to meet and reflect upon LGBTQIA+ history, as well as the intersections of prejudice and discrimination, using texts from Jewish ethical thought, along with feminism, ethics, and writings on intersectionality. Elders relay their role in making change and working for liberation.
Flowing from the classroom to ministry, together with my students, we have initiated weekly programs to build a spiritual, social, and justice-based “Qmmunity.” One program, called Breaking Bread and the Binary, convenes weekly meetings and hosts retreats each semester. We often lead prayer for students using Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, a queer and egalitarian Jewish prayer book for believers and non-believers.
The Cultural Centers at USF bring students together to increase their understanding, and to embrace their roles as members of a diverse community on both local and global levels. As a part of USF’s Cultural Centers, the Gender & Sexuality Center is both a physical lounge space for students and a center for student-run programs.
The Gender & Sexuality Center has an undergraduate intern, who creates programs for USF students to engage with LGBTQIA+ and gender identity topics. These open programs use social media to engage students. Program examples include LGBTQIA+ representation in cartoons and celebrities who break gendered fashion rules.
Trans & Nonbinary: This program builds connections with and among trans and nonbinary students through conversations on gender, expression, and community.
Queer BIPOC Community Meet-Up: This program validates the experiences of, and helps builds community for and with, Queer Black, Indigenous, People of Color.
The Gender Affirming Clothing Closet gives transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students access to free clothing and accessories within a safe space.
Transgender Spectrum Initiative is a USF Jesuit Grant Foundation-funded program. The TSI, through the Jesuit value of contemplation in action, invites USF’s transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming people, and the broader community, to reflect on and talk about the marginalization and injustices that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming community members experience each day.
Lavender Commencement honors graduating LGBTQIA+ students, including those who identify across the gender and sexuality spectrums through celebration, certificates, and keepsakes.
Prism is a student organization that creates an inclusive and affirming space for all members of USF’s LGBTQIA+ and ally community to support each other’s various identities and continue to grow through higher education.
The Black Rainbow Party fosters community among Black queer students and allies.
Graduate: Dr. Jane Bleasdale
The School of Education at USF supports the LGBTQIA+ community in both K–12 schools and higher education through programming, curriculum, research, and one-to-one engagement. Our mission is to “advance justice through education,” which includes justice for the LGBTQIA+ community.
The Catholic Educational Leadership Program includes and supports LGBTQIA+ students in Catholic schools locally, nationally and globally. The CEL program embodies Catholic social thought and the promotion of justice. In partnership with the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education at USF, program faculty, staff, and students conduct research and present at national and international conferences (e.g., Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice; Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education Conference; Jesuit Schools Network Conferences and Colloquium, etc.).
At home, we have also convened many community spaces. Here are some highlights:
Roundtable for leaders in Catholic education on Understanding and Supporting Students Who Identify as Trans in Catholic Schools, with guest speaker Theresa Spark, San Francisco Mayor’s Senior Adviser for Transgender Initiatives
Q.E.I.R.S. Queer Educators in Religious Schools: A group that empowers and supports USF students and their community members who identify as LGBTQIA+ and work in Catholic school settings
We have a long way to go before full inclusion is realized on our campus, and we are working across schools and in our student life programming to center the lives and experiences of our queer community.
Camille Shira Angel is Rabbi-in-Residence in University Ministry and a faculty member in the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco. Jane Bleasdale is an assistant professor in USF’s School of Education, director of the Catholic Educational Leadership Program, and an advocate for the LGBQTIA+ community in Catholic education.
Above: Catholic Educators gathered at USF in June 2019 for the inaugural summit: Supporting LGBTQIA+ Inclusion in Catholic Schools (photo courtesy of Jane Bleasdale).