Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff of Seattle University

We write to express our strongest support for The Specatator article reporting on the 2018 Drag Show, for the editorial decision to run a photograph of a performer at the show on the cover, and for the professional coverage of the actions of Fr. David Leigh, the comments of Fr. Stephen Sundborg, and the subsequent responses by the campus community. We appreciate Fr. Sundborg’s apology for his insensitive and hurtful remarks, but we are deeply troubled by them in content and tone.

Seattle University is one of many Jesuit universities with a stated mission to educate people on campus by raising awareness about the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Ally members of the community. The Women & Gender Studies program lives this mission in our courses, our events, the work we do, and the lived experience of the students, staff, and faculty of the program.

It is fundamental to the university’s mission to honor the dignity and value the humanity of our communities and to respect self-representations. It is our mission to support LGBTQ students’ freedom of expression and provide a safe place to celebrate who they are. This does not conflict with the university’s Jesuit heritage. The Seattle University Drag Show and student clubs such as its sponsor, the Triangle Club, as well as Queer and Trans People of Color, embody that mission. SU is hardly alone in this. Drag shows are not anomalies at Jesuit colleges and universities, nor are drag shows new (indeed, drag is neither an anomaly nor new in many religious traditions). On Jesuit campuses across the country—such as Fordham, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Boston College, Loyola University Chicago, and John Carroll University—drag shows are thriving with the support of the administration. Drag shows are enormously popular, selling out every year. They are newsworthy events and The Spectator staff did its job in reporting and celebrating the event.

But the tone of Fr. Sundborg’s comments alarms us as much as Fr. Leigh’s actions. We are deeply concerned about both the effect these words and deeds have on valued and respected members of the campus community—students, faculty, and staff—and on the wider neighborhood, city, and world. We live in fearful times, where hate groups proliferate and people in power either tolerate or openly support hate-filled actions. There is no place for homophobic attitudes or actions on campuses, where our work is to educate not only the whole person, but all persons, without discrimination based on gender identity. We should never tolerate the suppression of free speech, whether in print or on stage. The only thing we should never tolerate is intolerance.

The faculty of the Women and Gender Studies Program encourage expansion of programs and departments that offer coursework on gender and sexuality, and have been doing so ourselves for 25 years at SU. In 2017 we proposed an LGBTQ minor and in anticipation of that, we offer and classes in academic year 2018 on LGBTQ theory and methods, and courses in sexuality studies. We believe the recent events underscore the critical need for more LGBTQ education and representation, and we urge the administration to approve the program quickly and with enthusiasm. But we are just one part of what must be a campus-wide effort. Seattle University needs to provide affirming spaces for anyone feeling unsafe, disheartened, or angry about homophobia. In that spirit, we support initiatives that foster a genuinely inclusive campus such as gender-inclusive housing. Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic academic institution in America, recently approved residential housing for students who seek to examine gender identity and sexual orientation.

Let’s take the time to have much-needed conversations about respect, dignity, and educating the whole person of all persons, and then take action to foster genuine inclusivity while remaining true to our Jesuit origins.

The Women & Gender Studies Program
Faculty of the Executive Committee & Advisory Board