On Oct. 24, the Catholic League tweeted a question which has since become a common source of campus humor and social media banter: “Is Georgetown becoming Gaytown?”
Students swept up the tweet almost instantly, and before long it had reappeared on the Georgetown memes Facebook page and inspired several more related posts, one of which featured a fake t-shirt with “Gaytown University” written on the chest. The tweet, however, was only a small part of the controversy which had already been brewing on campus.
In early October, Chad Gasman (COL ‘20) and Jasmine Ouseph (SFS ‘19) requested a recommendation from the Student Activities Commission (SAC) that the university defund Love Saxa, a student group whose Catholic views on marriage require a union between one man and one woman. Ouseph and Gasman claimed that the group was in violation of the university’s Student Organization Standards, which prohibit groups whose “purpose and activities foster hatred or intolerance based on . . . sexual preference” from receiving school funds and recognition.
After two meetings and a combined five hours of debate, the SAC decided in favor of Love Saxa and recommended that university not defund the student group.
Georgetown students, however, were not the only interested parties. Media sources such as the Washington Post, Fox News, and Breitbart covered the proceedings,
Back on campus, Facebook conversations full of vitriol and crass language have permeated Georgetown’s social media sphere. Gasman even created a meme saying, “I’d like to give a big f*ck you to Georgetown’s recognized homophobic hate group,” which Love Saxa believes was targeted at them.
Unsurprisingly, when SAC debated the complaint, they had to move their hearing to a larger room to accommodate the number of guests that had arrived. Some outside papers including the Boston Globe had Georgetown students use their ID cards to access the event and cover it for them.
In the hearing, SAC board members heard arguments from Ouseph and Gasman as well as Love Saxa’s president, Amelia Irvine (COL ’19), and acting vice president, Hunter Estes (SFS ’19).
Among the topics discussed was Irvine’s September op-ed, published in The Hoya, which detailed her views on abstinence and clarified Love Saxa’s cultural standpoint on marriage. In the op-ed, Irvine qualifies Love Saxa’s definition of marriage as strictly heteronormative. “Love Saxa’s definition of marriage does not include same-sex couples,” she writes, and this statement later opened the central question of SAC’s debate, whether a heteronormative view of marriage promote intolerance on campus.
Ouseph and Gasman claim this comment, along with the language in Love Saxa’s constitution, constitute an intolerant “purpose” for the group, disqualifying them from university funds or recognition.
“Love Saxa’s message clearly excludes same sex couples, and exclusion leads to ‘other-ing’ and feelings of inferiority,” Ouseph said.
The group’s constitution establishes itself as a safe space from new and destructive trends in marriage and sexuality in America. “Many Georgetown students lack a space to discuss their experiences of the harmful effects of a distorted view of human sexuality and the human person.,” read sthe constitution. Ouseph defined Love Saxa’s use of “distorted” to describe queer relationships as “dehumanizing” and insulting to LGBTQ people.
“To deny a group an essential right and have that be a core element of your mission I think is fostering a lot of intolerance,” Ouseph said.
Hunter Estes denied any hateful intentions in Love Saxa’s constitution, claiming the group focused more on rising divorce rates and pornography use instead of homosexuality. Estes also questioned any accusations that Love Saxa’s statement affronts the LGBTQ community.
“Speech is not violence,” he said.
The other question at hand was whether Love Saxa’s activities specifically contribute to an environment of intolerance. Love Saxa’s representatives claimed their activities were not explicitly homophobic and the events they held were protected under free speech.
“In no way have we created an environment on campus that promotes hostility,” said Estes. “Freedom of expression in public is what it at stake here,” he later continued.
In the past, Love Saxa has held multiple events with speakers who have generally focused on the harmful effects of pornography and hook-up culture. Some of those speakers, though, have demonstrated actively homophobic viewpoints and worked with organizations classified as homophobic hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ouseph and Gasman specifically pointed out Ryan T. Anderson, who Love Saxa has hosted for a speaking event and who the Washington Post describes as “the conservative movement’s fresh-faced, millennial, Ivy League-educated spokesman against same-sex marriage.”
Gasman referenced a moment where they felt uncomfortable at one of these speaking events, asserting the speaker laughed at him when he asked a question.
Estes defended the group’s activities claiming they espoused values which Georgetown promotes as a Catholic university. While the group is secular, its mission, he stated, runs in line with many Catholic teachings on marriage.
When general statements came to a close, board members began debate and questions. A central topic of debate was whether marriage was a right, and whether promotion of denying that right is intolerant. When asked is marriage was a right, Estes said no. “Marriage is not a right, it’s a privilege,” he said. Some members of the SAC board, however, seemed determined that marriage, as defined by international human rights law, is a basic right.
The first night of debate ended without a decision and marked the first time SAC has ever been forced to call a second hearing to resolve a debate.
On the second night, the board immediately motioned to enter executive session, in which guests were asked to leave. After two hours SAC came forward with a final vote of eight to four against defunding Love Saxa.
SAC’s board members each gave a reason for their vote. Those who voted in favor of Love Saxa explained that Love Saxa’s activities and the speakers they brought to campus were protected under free speech. Love Saxa’s events largely center on the harmful effects of pornography, the U.S.’s rising divorce rate, and the merits of chastity.
Dissenting opinions held that Love Saxa’s constitution and an op-ed written by Irvine for The Hoya demonstrate an intolerant purpose because they support the denial of LGBTQ people’s right to marry others of same sex. Some members also said they did not think the speakers which Love Saxa had invited were admissible, saying free speech does not protect intolerant speech.
“Eight straight, white people basically just told us homophobia doesn’t exist,” Ouseph said after the session. The Voice has no information as to the SAC commissioners’ race or sexual orientation.
While Love Saxa’s funding and university recognition remain intact, Irvine looks to move past the controversy. “I wish the process hadn’t been so divisive,” she said. “Our objectives moving forward will definitely be to try to smooth that over.”