“Anything that makes you different, people are going to find a problem with,” Bill Monahan said.
At first glance Monahan appears intimidating. Standing over 6 feet tall with jet-black hair and a thick straggly beard, he looks as if he has just jumped off his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
But his rainbow tie-dye bandanna seems to contradict his overall demeanor; it tells a story that words sometimes cannot. It adds character to his already colorful personality.
Monahan is a sophomore English and communication major at Cabrini College. He has been “out of the closet” since late in his high school career. Monahan explained that he has been very open about his sexual orientation during his time at Cabrini, but he does not feel that it should define him.
“Being gay is only a part of my life and sometimes it comes across that being gay is who I am. It seems that it is my identity, but it’s only part of my identity,” Monahan said.
There is something missing for Monahan, something that Cabrini’s campus does not provide for him, at least not now.
Cabrini does not currently offer a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) or any similar diversity club.
“Not having a group on campus has been difficult, but you find others. You find other groups and you move on. What is important is that you have somewhere and someone to call home and family,” Monahan said.
According to a brochure of Cabrini’s office of Student Development, the school “is committed to providing our students with an ‘education of the heart’ that facilitates their holistic development as individuals and helps them to grow in their concern for others.”
A major focus of Cabrini’s strategic five-year plan, which began in the 2007-2008 academic year, is to hire a Director of Diversity Initiatives. At present, the formation of a group dedicated to supporting gay students on campus is left to student initiative in the form of a club. In addition, the initiative may come from staff in the counseling service when they perceive a need.
“We have a process in place through the student activities office to respond to students interested in forming organizations, and counseling services has taken the initiative to sponsor several student support groups when they perceive that there is an expressed need or interest among students in having them do so. To date, we haven’t been approached by students about forming a group around this interest,” Dr. Christine Lysionek, vice president of student development, said.
Kathryn L. Stewart, Esq., is a Youth Law Project attorney for Equality Advocates in Pennsylvania, which was formerly the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.
“A GSA or similar student club provides a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) and allied students to discuss anti-LGBTQ bias and allows students to educate their school community about reducing LGBTQ harassment and increasing tolerance and acceptance,” Stewart said.
Laura Piantini, now a sophomore at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, came to Cabrini as a freshman in 2006.
“I was looking for a specific club, maybe a respect or diversity club, and when I did not find that, I felt let down in a way,” Piantini said.
Early in her first semester, Piantini attended an event that showcased all of the clubs and organizations available and found that there was not a single diversity club on campus.
“I felt that if other Catholic colleges had GSAs and clubs similar to that, then it was time for Cabrini to step up and do the same,” Piantini said.
Cabrini currently still lacks a GSA while other Catholic colleges in the Philadelphia area have created support systems for homosexual students. St. Joseph’s University has created Students for Tolerance, Openness & Pride (S.T.O.P) and Misercoridia University established its Ally Program to support the LGBTQ population.
Eastern University, Cabrini’s conservative Christian neighboring school, has started a homosexual support group as well called Refuge.
“Before Refuge there was no GSA or any other organization that modeled itself as a safe place for LGBTQ students at Eastern University,” Emily Pfizenmayer, 2007 Eastern University alumna and former Refuge student president, said.
Pfizenmayer explained that although Refuge is not an official group at Eastern, the vice president and dean, as well as university faculty and alumni support it.
Homosexual students attending a school that does not offer a group may have the option to turn to their local community for support.
The Main Line Youth Alliance (MYA) located in Wayne, Pa. was formed 10 years ago. The group’s main focus is to provide a safe place where kids can talk openly about issues they are having as LGBTQ youth.
“I think that any type of organization that accommodates or educates developing individuals, especially between the ages of 18-24, is ignoring a significant number of kids by not having a gay support group,” Sarah Sterling, MYA group facilitator and adolescent health educator at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said.
“We probably have students at all different stages in their human development. We have students open about their sexual orientation who feel comfortable living in this environment but we also have students struggling to find who they are and they would benefit from having a safe place to talk about those things,” Lysionek said.
“I would hope if you’re not going to support my sexual orientation you would at least accept me because I am not going to change for anyone and I would not ask anyone to change for me,” Monahan said.