Matthew Henry Smith ’16
I have never been more confused. Someone give it to me straight. What is Providence College?
It chose me. Actually it chose us. Somewhere back in the Novembers of our high school days we chose to apply to PC and somewhere in the springtime it chose us right back. This is important. Let us not forget that PC chose us.
Why is this important? Because it means that PC chose every LGBT person on this campus – and out of an undergraduate body roughly 4000 conservative statistics would show us that means there are probably around 160 LGBT students on this campus. It did not choose them for this reason – it could not have known. But there we were: queer and accepted to Providence College.
And then it chose us a second time when you included sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy. So now when people point to folks like me and say, “why did you come here if you were gay” I say, “because PC chose me.” And there we were: queer and accepted at Providence College.
In these actions PC did not only choose the LGBT folks but all of our allies as well. It asserted that is a credible institution that deserves our time and diligence and dollars.
But then Providence College reversed. The Philosophy Department announced yesterday that it is hosting a speaker on February 18th. Her name is Dr. Michelle Cretella, MD and she represents NARTH: the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. This group is a niche community of individuals who work to convert “homosexuals” with unwanted same sex attraction. The American Psychological Association has this to say:
“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his samesex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.”
Let me go on the record as saying that I am not the spokesperson for the queer kids at PC: I just happen to be an outspoken queer kid at PC.
This comes with some things (not baggage but… things). While I have been harassed and harangued once or twice for my sexual orientation, I can always cry a little and then get over it. People know my politics and make assumptions about me before they meet me and I’m fine with that it comes with the territory. But many folks here have made one big mistake: they think I do not love my school. I have been accused of trying to figuratively burn the reputation of this institution, which I love so dearly, in effigy. This is incorrect. I chose PC.
The students at Providence College are not the problem because students can be put through workshops to increase sensitivity on issues like these. The problem is that so many students have stood up and identified themselves as LGBTQ, yet Providence College will not identify. It says one thing and does another. It says you are welcome then says you are sick.
The students of Providence College are not here to simply exchange money for room, board and degrees: we are active in the development of this institution’s reputation. But this is not a call to arms. I am not advocating for a protest. We should allow controversial speakers to come to campus. But I was told that we would be protected and I am looking for the other side of this. I am looking for the faculty member who is going to get up and present the contrary argument, the truth and the message that promotes respect for human dignity and rights. This is not an academic freedom issue but instead a mental health malpractice issue.
And mostly I worry for those I do not know. I declare that I am not sick and neither are my brothers and sisters (and those gender-nonconforming siblings of mine). But what about the students who are not connected to the resources I am. I am part of an organization that networks roughly 30 queer and allied folks to support, education and protection. When our house is rattled by this we will stand together and know love and truth.
But the students that we do not know – the ones who have not identified – won’t be connected to the same support system. Already isolated, they may feel diagnosed. And so the guy who hasn’t come out to his family or roommates yet is going to hear that PC hosted a speaker (again, an unopposed speaker) who believes his “condition” is treatable. What does this do to a person?
To close I will be explicitly honest: I shouldn’t have been made to feel by this institution like I had to put my identity on the line (time and again) to make this a safe place. I am not the only one who has been pushed by the inconsistent identity of this institution to do so. We dutifully do what we must, but we should no longer be responsible for teachable moments.
Not to mention that Providence College didn’t need this right now.
Providence College, you must choose: how do you identify?