By Steph Haeg
October is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month. June is for Pride; a celebration of identity and culture, but October is slightly more solemn. The LGBT community’s history is long, troubled and sometimes violent and cruel.
And it’s no different at CSB/SJU.
Perhaps surprisingly for a Catholic institution, CSB and SJU both have had long-standing support networks offered for lesbian and gay students (other identities weren’t originally included). SJU had the “10% Group,” which was a support network for gay Johnnies, while CSB had the “College Lesbians United,” a group which offered the same services for Bennies.
These, however, were part of the counseling office, and were not student organizations. To try to fill that gap, the group called Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FLAG) was founded, but it was another organization dedicated to support, and was set up for allies of the community.
And so, in the early 1990s, the Les-Bi-Gay Club was founded. It’s arrival at CSB/SJU was incredibly troubled. It was frequently called redundant because of the presence of the other groups on campus. Their presence was protested because it was not Christian. It was granted a charter in the spring of 1991 on one very simple condition: They could educate the campuses on different sexualities and identities but they were not permitted to “advocate for alternative lifestyles.” The club was frequently accused of crossing that line, with a St. John’s Senator calling for a revocation of their charter in October of 1991, on the grounds that they had endorsed National Coming Out Day. There were later petitions for the senator’s resignation, deeming his remarks insensitive.
In the era before People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRISM), multiple students made their beliefs clear: CSB and SJU were hostile, often unsafe environments for LGBT students. One Johnnie referenced in CSB’s now discontinued newspaper, The Independent, that men who were perceived as gay were being physically attacked. Another student came out in The Record in 1991 and stated he was endangering himself in doing so, and that he hoped to find a more welcoming community in the Twin Cities.
As PRISM emerged, they began to educate and advocate in a way that previous groups had not, but it was not an easy transition. The PRISM email account was frequently inundated with anonymous hate mail, to the point that there was a period of time where all emails from PRISM included a warning that all hate would be forwarded to the Human Right’s Office.
CSB and SJU became more openly supportive during the early 2000s, trying to ensure that debates on LGBT issues were free of hate speech. A Magis Ministry student leader was removed from her position when she came out as lesbian and was deemed unfit, only to be offered her position again when the group’s funding was threatened. She declined.
PRISM kept making forward strides, though; they had a Pride Wall in 2009, their first annual drag show was in 2010, and they have been promoting safe space training and ally training courses, as well as other events like their BBQueer.
Today, St. John’s is the only men’s college in the country that accepts transgender students, and St. Ben’s is one of many women’s college to do the same. And if that doesn’t say a great deal about how far we’ve come, I don’t know what does.