Students at Conservative Catholic College Speak After Sudden Cancellation of Pro-Gay Speaker

Although Providence College is often called the most conservative Catholic College in America, and is the eleventh-most LGBT-unfriendly, it prides itself on fostering dialogue. In that spirit, nine academic departments at Providence co-sponsored a lecture by John Corvino, a pro-gay-marriage philosopher whose website is called “The Gay Moralist.”

Corvino’s lecture, “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage” was to be given on Thursday, September 26th, and would be followed by a critical response from Providence theology professor Dr. Dana Dillon. 

What happened next has been widely reported throughout the media. Providence College’s Provost, Dr. Hugh Lena, sent an email to the faculty informing them the lecture violated official church policy (an assertion which is one of Lena’s many “blatant errors of fact” in the statement) and that it would thus be cancelled. Lena did not contact Corvino, who only learned of the event’s cancellation when Christopher Arroyo, who helped organize the event, e-mailed him. 

On Wednesday, facing national outcry, Lena released another statement, announcing that Corvino’s speaking engagement had simply been “rescheduled” for the spring. They’ve also taken steps to ensure this never happens again by requiring that the administration be informed in advance of the “general content” of any lectures held in the future.

Providence’s student body has reacted with outrage. On Thursday, students flooded Providence College’s ’64 center for an open-forum/protest called “Fighting for Academic Freedom.” 

At the meeting, a number of LGBT students made clear that they were profoundly upset by the administration’s decision. One student noted that the college’s actions had “further alienated the LGBT community”; that Lena’s decision implied that LGBT people were not “creatures of value and worth”; and that Providence had “directly defied the pope’s ecumenical redirection to a deeper respect for everyone.”

Another LGBT student took the floor to say that Providence College, “felt like home” as soon as they visited and that the support from LGBT groups on campus allowed them to come out, and to finally “look in the mirror and start loving who I saw.”

This student noted that the college’s statement was “hurtful” and brought back past issues with self-image. It “kind of put me on square one,” they said. 

One professor, described as “conservative,” wrote on the faculty’s email listserv that, “it would take a person with a stone-heart not to be moved by [the LGBT student’s] sense of injury that the college they call ‘home’ would act this way.”

When I spoke to Corvino on the phone Tuesday, he seemed to be wrestling with the same concerns, noting that the school’s sudden cancellation of his event sent the message that the presence of openly gay folks was like “a virus that might infect the students if they’re not protected.”

Corvino reflected this same concern in a blog post Wednesday,

It’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask. This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.

Corvino mentioned that he had received a great number of emails from LGBT students at Providence College. One alumnus told him that he had not been comfortable being out at Providence, and that the administration’s actions had convinced him that staying in the closet was indeed the right decision.