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Love the Sinner

When sexual orientation conflicts with church doctrine, how tolerant should a Catholic University be?

"We try to make students understand that our goal is an inclusive campus," says the diversity administrator. "That doesn't mean that you like everyone or that you agree 100 percent with everyone. But you respect the rights of that person to be a part of that community just as equally as you are."

In 2003, that community elected its first gay student-body president, Scott Shields. The vote rated a story in The Advocate, a national gay magazine.

Father Sheeran expected that article to prompt angry calls or letters. "But none came," he recalls. "And there were no questions raised by anybody at the archdiocese, and I'm sure they knew about that article and they knew about Scott. The thing that I was proud of was that the level of prejudice on campus was so low, that a guy could be publicly gay and it just wasn't a big deal. And that said something."

Shields, who's since graduated and now works in Denver, remembers it differently. Although he wasn't harassed on campus, there was significant blowback from outside of Regis. "When my Advocate article came out, it caused a lot of problems," he says. "Not for students, but higher up, as far as alumni and parents, donors and the diocese." He even talked about it with Father Sheeran.

"And I don't know if I was asked or not, but I kind of walked away from one meeting where they were kind of hoping I would step down," Shields adds. "It was more, 'Is this going to be a problem for us?' He was more worried about his own self and the reputation of the school."



In the fall of 2005, her senior year, Alana McCoy was chosen to serve as an RA in one of Regis's residence halls. Part of an RA's duties includes creating a bulletin-board display in the dorm's hallway; the subject matter can range from current events to musicians, says Michael Uhrig, the assistant hall director who supervised RAs that year. In honor of national "Coming Out Day" in mid-October, Alana decided to post several stories she'd found on the Internet written by young gays, lesbians and transsexuals about their experience making their sexual orientation public.

The day after her bulletin board went up, a typed note was slipped under the doors of several RAs and also sent via e-mail to various administrators. McCoy's display was inappropriate for Regis as a Catholic university, the message charged, also singling out another gay RA for "flirting and expressing other sexual advances toward his homosexual partner." Signed only by "Very Concern Students," the letter warned that "if the wall is not dismantled within 48 hours, me, and many other students who have witnessed this highly vulgar board, will take serious action."

Uhrig got a copy of the message. "When I read that, I guess I was very confused by that line," he says. "What are they going to do, really? But the tone of it was very threatening."

The next day, the board was ripped down. McCoy and other students repaired it, but that night it was ripped down again. McCoy took up the matter with Marie Humphrey, director of residence life, who suggested that she put the board up again, but this time include a printout of "Always Our Children," a document created by Catholic bishops in 1997 as way for parents of gay children to approach the topic. "Always Our Children" has been used by many Catholic schools as a way to interpret church doctrine in modern times; while still calling homosexuality a sin in the eyes of God, it urges Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with love and respect.

This time the board stayed up. And it wasn't long before the students behind the letter and the earlier destruction were identified. By tracing the e-mail address, Campus Safety was able to determine that Zachary Dong, a sophomore from Evergreen, had written the note. And the student who'd ripped down the display was fingered as Alexander Robinson, a freshman.

Both Robinson and Dong declined to comment for this story. According to Robinson's MySpace page, the now-twenty-year-old graduated from Mullen High School, a Catholic college prep school in Denver, and is majoring in international business and finance at Regis.

After the culprits were revealed, Humphrey issued a memo to all student residents reinforcing Regis's commitment to diversity. The school held a public dialogue titled "Gay, Lesbian, Regis, the Church: Dealing With Difficult Issues." The school newspaper, The Highlander, wrote about the incident and published a short editorial by Father Sheeran quoting from "Always Our Children" and reinforcing Catholic doctrine with this: "Regis is committed to Catholic teachings that human sexuality is a gift from God and that sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage between a man and a woman."

Dong and Robinson were called before the school's J-board, a disciplinary panel made up of student peers, to decide if they had violated any of the school code. The confidential hearings continued through several sessions, including one at which McCoy testified. But ultimately, it was decided that their transgressions were not significant enough to warrant expulsion or suspension.

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