Hundreds Protest Cancellation Of Gay Dance At Boston College

School officials say it was never approved in the first place.

Nearly 500 Boston College students, faculty and staff braved the cold and snow on Friday to rally in support of gay rights on campus and to protest the school's decision to nix a planned AIDS benefit gala that had been slated to take place that evening.

A handful of student speakers took the stage to vent their frustration with the university for "failing to recognize GLBT persons in their full humanity," event organizers the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Leadership Council said in a statement. Afterward, the crowd observed two minutes of silence to show its disappointment and then broke out into an hour and a half of unity celebration and dancing. Some students held signs that read "Homophobia Devalues Your Degree" and "Homophobia Hurts Boston College."

"We don't believe that any university that claims to be about social justice can stand by and blatantly discriminate against the students who call the school their home," said junior Christopher Young, who also spoke at the event. "We want them to realize how hateful they're being."

The unity rally was an end to a weeklong effort by the GLBT Leadership Council to get the word out to students that administrators had scrapped the group's December 9 AIDS benefit gala, claiming it conflicted with church teachings and the school's heritage as a Catholic university. The council's leaders said the move was a snub to gay and lesbian students on campus, especially after the school added language to its nondiscrimination policy in April that stated it would provide a more welcoming environment to students, regardless of sexual orientation (see "Boston College Students Hold Strike To Support Gay Rights").

"Boston College has stated it wishes to become 'The Best Catholic University in the World,' however they have chosen to set a policy which bans, censors and curtains the expression of its students, simply because of their sexual orientation," the GLBT Leadership Council statement continued. "[Boston College] will never achieve its full potential while retaining the right to legally discriminate."

University spokesperson Jack Dunn said the dance wasn't so much canceled as it was never officially approved in the first place. Robert Sherwood, dean for student development, said in an open letter to the BC community, "[We have] made it clear to the student leadership within the gay community at Boston College that it would not be acceptable to sponsor a 'gay dance' because it would be perceived as condoning the 'gay lifestyle,' which would not be consistent with our mission."

However, junior Veronica Joseph, who has been helping in the event's planning, said the council had been in talks with the administration since September and even changed the name of the gala several times, ditching ideas like "A Night in Gay Paris" to ensure that the title was inclusive of the entire Boston College community, not only those who are homosexual.

Sherwood also noted the school became concerned when a student leader "graphically described the type of sexually explicit behavior that could be expected at the event," but junior Veronica Joseph, a GLBT Leadership Council member, said that was never the case.

"This was always intended to be an elegant semiformal event, like homecoming. Not some massive orgy," she said. "Someone did say they expect kissing to occur, but that's a given, especially if you're with your significant other. But that doesn't equate to sexually explicit behavior. It's not porn."

A portion of the gala's proceeds was set to be donated to the Boston Living Center, a residential home for AIDS patients. Despite the cancellation, the group will still be donating $2,000 from its coffers to the center.

With the fall semester coming to a close next week, the group has no further plans to protest but will keep in contact with BC officials during winter break to discuss planning a similar event in the spring.

"We understand that change doesn't happen overnight," Joseph said, "but we won't back down until Boston College agrees to make this university a place that doesn't discriminate on any grounds."