Opening sparks controversy within
ON SEPT. 21, St. Paul University’s student association launched its own pride centre. The first of its kind at the university, the new centre held a celebratory event on campus, but the grand opening was not without resistance from the Catholic university administration.
“We are saddened they won’t come forward and endorse us, but we understand that there are questions of faith,” said Sean Neil-Barron, the secretary of the student association and a co-founder of the centre. “But we also know there are challenges within that faith and there are people working within those communities for more equality and for more justice.”
The idea for the pride centre came from the co-founders’ realization that there wasn’t a strong lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community on campus.
“We thought that being gay in a Catholic university can at times be isolating, so we hoped to provide a place where there can be support for that,” said Neil-Barron.
A proposal was brought before the student association and subsequently passed.
“[The student association] voted in favour of it, which I think was kind of a historic day,” said Neil-Barron, who was given a $100 budget to organize the centre’s opening event.
“We had about 30 people show up, which is great for a university that has, you know, 500 students. I can’t see it going any better than it did.”
Despite this success, the centre’s launch faced some resistance.
“It seems like some of the people who were on the conservative end of the spectrum were confused and thought this was a university-sponsored initiative,” said Neil-Barron. “There was a complaint made about that to the administration.”
Neil-Barron said the problems could have been caused by the stakeholders in the university, some of whom hold conservative views on LGBT issues.
“We are gong to enter into a dialogue with the administration,” said Neil-Barron. “We know that they themselves are walking a fine balance between different stakeholders.”
According to Neil-Barron, after the centre was launched, the administration wrote the organizers a letter, asking them to not use St. Paul University’s name in the centre’s title.
“The pride centre was created and operated by the student association, not the university,” said Sylvie Moisan, spokesperson for St. Paul University. “This is really their activity.”
Neil-Barron said the co-founders and the group are trying to be diplomatic about the issue, but aren’t planning on closing the centre just because of the difficulties with the administration.
“We’re not going to go away, but at the same time we understand that there are a lot of issues at play,” said Neil-Barron.