(AP) Newman University, a private Catholic school in Wichita, plans to offer a group next year to support its LGBTQ students while continuing to emphasize Catholic teaching that condones sex only in marriage between a man and a woman.
In response to growing interest among students to recognize the school's diversity, the university formed a committee to plan the LGBTQ group. The committee met over the summer and fall of 2016 and used a model used at Notre Dame, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The group's formation was spurred in part by a speech by Ruben Lerma at a public forum, where he discussed being gay on the Newman campus. He said he attended Newman because it offered him a full scholarship, even though he was concerned about being ``that gay student.'' Lerma recounted overhearing Newman students saying gay people should go to hell and legalizing gay marriage would make gays want to marry animals.
"I'm not the only gay person here, I'm not going to be the only gay person here, there will be more,'' Lerma remembers saying. "If for their sake, if not mine, you should make it more amiable, make the environment better.''
Lerma's speech came as interest in recognizing diversity was growing. The university has restarted the Black Student Union, added a club to support Asian students and hired a diversity coordinator last year.
Newman's mission has always included concern for the dignity of all students, said spokesman Clark Shafer, but the events in 2016 raised awareness of the need to make LGBTQ students feel more welcome.
Before making the ``Pastoral Plan'' public, Newman contacted important alumnus and donor, who approved how the group upheld the school's Catholic values, Shafer said.
"The University exhorts all to hear and live the Church's teaching that `the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage (between man and woman) is essentially contrary to its purpose' and is considered gravely sinful,'' the plan reads.
The group will hold supportive meetings and put on events that recognize LGBTQ students.
Kevin Clack, the group's first student leader, said he believes the group will be able to discuss dating and romance but noted LGBTQ students have many concerns. Clack said he doesn't expect the group to focus on sexuality more than any other campus group, including the Black Student Union, of which he is also a member. He doesn't agree with the language about what constitutes a true marriage but thinks compromise was necessary to get the group started.