Secretary of Labor and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed a petition calling for Boston College to create an LGBTQ+ resource center on campus and include gender identity in the University’s nondiscrimination policy, according to BC Students 4 Equality and Walsh’s office.
“Having political leaders and prominent alumni like Secretary Walsh speak out is incredibly important because it shows BC there is broad community support for LGBTQ+ students on campus and that Father Leahy and the Board of Trustees cannot simply ignore student voices and hope these issues go away,” said James Mazareas, a BC graduate student who launched the petition in March of last year, in an email to The Heights.
The petition has garnered high-profile support in the past, including a retweet from Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and an endorsement from former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, both last March.
“I’m all on board for this,” Williamson tweeted. “These kids should have their needs met, and all of us should stand up for them.”
Walsh, BC ’09, was sworn in as U.S. secretary of labor last Tuesday after serving as the mayor of Boston for seven years. He officially resigned from office on March 22 following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
During his time as mayor, many praised Walsh for his LGBTQ+ policies, including the allocation of $2 million for Boston’s first LGBTQ+-supported senior housing development and support for legislation that would protect transgender people in Massachusetts from discrimination in public places.
Mazareas said he began talking to Walsh about LGBTQ+ issues on BC’s campus in 2018 when Walsh met with graduate student unions from BC and Harvard.
“Even though we already met about the union, later in the evening he was kind enough to take time to speak with me further about issues related to queer and trans students at BC,” he wrote. “He took time to listen and ask questions and was just very supportive.”
Alexandra Katz, a UGBC Student Assembly representative and Lynch ’23, said the University’s refusal to acknowledge the petition contributes to the underlying issue of alienation for LGBTQ+ students at BC.
“It very much adds to the permeating cultural norms that essentially prioritize the needs of the students who may not be in the LGBTQIA+ community,” Katz said.
Katz said she thinks Walsh’s signature will pressure the administration to acknowledge and address the petition.
“I think this is incredibly significant, just the fact that he signed this petition in support of this community on campus,” Katz said. “… He has publicly asserted his desire to improve conditions for LGBTQIA+ students here, and this is an immense step in the right direction, because in my opinion, it places more pressure on administrators to openly respond to these cries for more tangible resources on campus.”
Students at BC have a decades-long history of advocating for an LGBTQ+ resource center and increased support from the University.
“An LGBTQ+ Resource Center would foster a strong sense of belonging and security among Queer and Trans students,” the BC Students 4 Equality petition reads. “It would serve as a tangible sign of inclusion and care offered to LGBTQ+ students, who often have a more difficult time finding these vital necessities on campus.”
“It is incredibly troubling that BC acknowledges its own data reveals queer and trans students don’t feel welcome or safe being out on campus, yet Father Leahy and the Board of Trustees still refuse to make necessary changes to create a safe and supportive environment,” he wrote.
Katz emphasized that a resource center would provide a space for LGBTQ+ students where their right to exist is not being constantly debated.
“At Boston College, there is not a space for LGBTQIA+ students to exist without having to experience the constant anxiety and fear that comes with having your identity constantly debated,” Katz said. “… Our most basic right to exist in society is just constantly being tossed around as a matter of casual discussion, and the fact that there is nowhere on campus for LGBTQIA+ students to feel protected and insulated from this constant scrutiny, that is what is most fearful to me.”
After the Vatican’s recent statement that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, students called for BC to clarify its stance on LGBTQ+ rights and support its queer students and alumni.
BC’s Communication Department directed The Heights to faculty in the theology department, who were not immediately available for comment.
Mazareas said he hopes that Walsh signing the petition will create momentum for other members of the BC community to show support for the LGBTQ+ students on campus.
“BC is out of step not only with most colleges across the country, it is falling behind Jesuit and Catholic institutions in supporting queer and trans students,” Mazareas wrote. “The calls to improve conditions on campus are only going to grow louder, and hopefully Secretary Walsh making a public show of support will lead to other alumni to take a stand as well.”
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