Love the Sinner

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

On November 11, 2005, the night that decision was handed down, McCoy discovered the word "DIKE" written on her dorm-room door in permanent ink.

She called campus security. In his report, the officer noted the J-board connection -- but no one ever questioned Dong or Robinson about this act of vandalism. Instead, they placed a small security camera outside McCoy's door. When no more acts of vandalism occurred, the camera was removed.

McCoy considered appealing the J-board decision, but an administrator convinced her to instead go through a faculty-led mediation with Dong, which she describes as mostly "Zach and I arguing." Dong defended his protest of the "Coming Out Day" display by citing statements made by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, an outspoken critic of American Catholics who remain neutral or silent when church teachings on abortion or gay marriage are contradicted in the political sphere.

When she didn't get satisfaction at Regis University, Alana McCoy went to the Denver police.
Anthony Camera
When she didn't get satisfaction at Regis University, Alana McCoy went to the Denver police.
Although Zachary Dong (left) and Alex Robinson weren't on campus when Alana McCoy's car was vandalized, they did admit to ripping down her display of coming-out stories.
Although Zachary Dong (left) and Alex Robinson weren't on campus when Alana McCoy's car was vandalized, they did admit to ripping down her display of coming-out stories.

After the mediation, McCoy tried to follow up with administrators to determine her options, but she says e-mails and phone messages were not returned. "Basically, I was left out of the case," she says. "I got no information after that, and I still haven't."

Fearing that Regis would not take strong enough action, she'd also reported the door vandalism to the Denver Police Department, along with the earlier damage that the vandals had done to her car. "It seemed they were getting more and more aggressive," McCoy says. "They went from scratching it into the paint to hammering my windshield. I was afraid, but I wasn't sure how to get the word out there. I felt very alone in it, and I felt that the university didn't really want to talk to people about it. I felt like it was up to me if people were going to know about this. But I just wasn't really prepared to do it. I was afraid of retaliation if these people know who I am."

The complaint sat in a District 1 officer's file for more than a year until last month, when DPD officer Karl Roller took over the case. After discovering that McCoy's complaint had "fallen through the cracks," he contacted her and asked if she still wanted to press charges. McCoy, who'd graduated in 2006 but now works in the Regis library, said that she did.

Roller's next step was to contact Regis Campus Safety. When he learned that neither Dong nor Robinson had been questioned regarding the door-vandalism incident, he asked them to meet him at the Campus Safety office. "The night that these two gentlemen were issued their school punishment was the same night that her door got vandalized," says Roller. "Call me stupid, but that kind of points me in that direction."

Robinson quickly confessed to writing the derogatory statement on McCoy's door and said that Dong had been there, too, along with a few other friends. But since it's not illegal to witness an act of vandalism, only Robinson was issued a summons to appear in Denver County Court on charges of criminal mischief and a bias-motivated crime, which falls under the city's hate-crime statute.

Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office, says that statute can apply when it can be proven that an individual "knowingly causes damage to or destruction of the property of another person" with intent to intimidate or harass because of race, color, religion or sexual orientation. But such intent is often difficult to prove to a jury, she says, and prosecutors must rely on such things as past crimes or statements that the accused made to friends.

Scrawled on a door, though, the word "dyke" -- even if it's misspelled -- speaks volumes.

"It wouldn't be difficult for us to prove that she certainly felt intimidated," says Kimbrough. "I don't think it would be hard for a deputy to show that the word 'dyke' is never used in a complimentary manner."

In his confession, Robinson said he was upset about the J-board process: "I felt like a victim for being subjected to the material, and after the verdict, the quick moment by her door felt like it was a good idea to write what I did."

That idea got him a date in Denver County Court on April 4; if convicted, Robinson could be sentenced to as much as a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The whole issue of homosexuality has risen to being probably the biggest controversy at Catholic colleges and universities," says Patrick Reily, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic group. "Whereas there may have been a legitimate frustration among gay and lesbian students about their inability to be open about what their orientation might be, especially in a Catholic environment, there is now an increasing and very legitimate frustration among many of the students who find that Catholic colleges and universities are afraid to enforce truly Catholic culture."

Reily has noticed that trend growing over the past five years. It used to be that gays and lesbians were often unlikely to attend Catholic universities -- or at least to keep their sexual identities hidden if they did. "But given the increasing openness of many Catholic universities to gays and lesbians, it's going to become even bigger, frankly, because there's going to be more of these students coming to these campuses," he says.

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