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Gay Group's Campus Access Request Sparks LMU Debate : Education: Student group's quest for recognition has touched off campuswide soul-searching about Loyola Marymount's role as a Catholic institution.


They began meeting last spring, half a dozen gay students from Loyola Marymount University, gathering in an off-campus apartment away from the school's serene setting on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.

As students at a Catholic university, they often felt isolated and fearful of allowing others to know about their homosexuality. They sought each other out, as group President James Munselle puts it, "just to have a base where we could talk to other gay students."

This year, the Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, which has grown to include about a dozen members, is seeking the right to meet on the Jesuit-run campus. And that quest has sparked wide-ranging debate among the university's nearly 4,000 undergraduates.

Proponents of the group argue that the issue is one of human rights and freedom of assembly, while opponents cite the church's view that homosexual acts are sinful.

Alliance members argue that they should have the same access to campus facilities as any other group. Without official recognition, the group cannot meet on campus, advertise in the campus newsletter or receive funding from the university.

"I think what happens a lot at Loyola is that because gay people can't or don't always feel comfortable on campus, a lot of the time the only arena they see as an option is the gay bars in West Hollywood," Munselle said. "To be forced to go to that arena because it's the only place you feel comfortable is a tragedy."

One 19-year-old club member, who asked not to be named, said the meetings have changed his life: "We talked about religion, about family--everything about the experience of being gay. . . . Last year I was lost and I felt away from God. Now that I'm speaking out, I feel like a whole other person, like I'm closer to God."

The alliance has drafted a constitution, enlisted English department chairman Mel Bertolozzi as faculty sponsor and submitted an application to the Student Affairs Committee.

The committee approved the application by a 9-2 vote in December and forwarded it to Father James N. Loughran, the university president.

Last week, the faculty senate passed a resolution by a 9-8 secret ballot urging university recognition. On Feb. 1, the student senate voted 12 to 4 in favor of a resolution urging Loughran to grant the group recognition. Although the president of the Associated Students vetoed the resolution on procedural grounds last week, it may be reintroduced in revised form this week.

The only vote that really matters, however, belongs to Loughran.

Munselle said the president told him in a Jan. 19 meeting that he could not approve the club, but alliance members hope Loughran ultimately will decide in their favor.

Joan Gaulene, the university's director of public relations, said last week that Loughran "feels it is premature to comment" on the issue. "It is a major and serious decision," Gaulene said, "and one he plans to make very shortly."

Whether he will--or should--grant recognition to a homosexual students' group has been the subject of a campuswide debate that goes to the heart of the university's role as a Catholic institution.

In 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which monitors adherence to church doctrine for the Vatican, sent Roman Catholic bishops a letter that called homosexuality "an objective disorder" and urged the bishops not to yield to "enormous pressure" to condone pro-homosexual views or behavior. The church urges abstinence rather than engaging in homosexual acts.

Brother Jeffrey Seeger, a German professor and assistant registrar, said although there are church documents "which allow for homosexuality as a natural variant of human sexuality," any sexual act outside of marriage is viewed as sinful. "You help the sinner while condemning the act," he said. Seeger added that the group's constitution does not transgress church teachings and he therefore found it "difficult to find any grounds not to allow it."

Last week, the university's 16-member student senate released the results of a poll sent to 2,000 students. The poll asked whether the university should approve the club and outlined arguments for and against approval.

Among the 269 students who responded, 59% were against the proposed club, 35% in favor and 6% undecided, said Travis Lawmaster, a student senator who supervised the polling.

Alliance members discounted the poll's methodology, saying the arguments relied on unsubstantiated statistics and focused on the church's stance on the homosexual act rather than on the issue of human rights.

Last week, alliance members and students from the university's Peace Studies group collected signatures on a petition asking for student support of the club's application. They estimate they have gathered more than 200 signatures, which they plan to submit to Loughran this week.

Munselle--who has retained attorney Gloria Allred to represent the group--believes there may be as many as 400 gay and lesbian students among the school's undergraduates.

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