Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh has officially signed on to a petition created by Boston College students calling on the BC administration to establish an LGBTQ+ Resource Center and add gender identity to the university's non-discrimination policy.
Graduate student Jamie Mazareas and other Boston College students, who have recently converged under the Instagram account @bcequality, created the petition in February 2020, in response to what he considers a "failure to fully support queer and trans students."
In its call for an LGBTQ+ Resource Center, the petition reads:
An LGBTQ+ Resource Center would foster a strong sense of belonging and security among Queer and Trans students. 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. Because of a lack of institutionalized support, LGBTQ+ students end up providing a tremendous amount of support for their peers even though they are the ones in very need of that care. The center will serve as an educational and support resource as well as provide a safe space on campus for LGBTQ+ students.
The petition also calls for the inclusion of gender identity in University non-discrimination policies, adding:
In 2005, the school added sexual orientation to its policy but failed to include gender identity. This omission needs to be rectified. Transgender and gender [non-conforming] communities, particularly people of color, are among the most vulnerable in facing discrimination. Including gender identity in BC's non-discrimination policy is an important step in acknowledging the existence and respecting the dignity of trans and non-binary students. The culture at any institution is shaped by the attitudes and policies of its administration. It is time for Boston College to demonstrate unequivocally that trans and non-binary students are equal members of the community who will be supported and protected in every way.
In a 2020 article by The Heights, Former Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore made formal recognition of a 2018 survey demonstrating that LGBTQ+ students felt unsafe and struggled to find community on BC's campus.
"The fact that BC acknowledges that its own data shows that queer and trans students don't feel safe or welcome on campus, but still refuses to make the necessary changes to fully support those students, is incredibly troubling," explains Mazareas in his statement to The Gavel. "BC is not only out of step with the wider community, but it is also out of step with other Jesuit and Catholic schools who are doing more to support LGBTQ+ students. That needs to change."
Walsh's support is significant at Boston College: The former Boston mayor earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Boston College's Woods College of Advancing Studies and is a well-known advocate for LGBTQ+ equality. He has forged strong ties with Boston's LGBTQ+ community, advocating through most of his career for transition-related healthcare, gender-neutral bathrooms, and, notably, marriage equality in the Commonwealth and the entire nation. Earlier this month, he announced $34 billion in funding for affordable housing in Boston, which included plans for the city's first designated LGBTQ+ housing development for seniors.
Now, just weeks after he left Boston to join President Biden's cabinet as Secretary of Labor, Walsh remains firm in his commitment to LGBTQ+ students at Boston College, who have been fighting for recognition and tangible support from the administration for years. In addition to these changes, students in Boston College's GLBTQIA+ Leadership Council (GLC) have recently advocated for the implementation of an LGBTQ+ Living and Learning Community, gender-neutral bathrooms, and improved identification and name policies.
Mazareas first spoke with Secretary Walsh about graduate student unions at a labor dinner in November 2018, alongside a group of BC and Harvard graduate workers. Afterward, he talked with the former mayor about LGBTQ+ inequality and discrimination at Boston College.
"I think it's incredibly significant that a political leader and prominent alum like Secretary Walsh, who has a longstanding relationship with the school, cared enough about queer and trans students to publicly support their efforts to enact necessary changes at BC," says Mazareas. "It speaks volumes about the work so many current and former students have done to advance these issues over the years."
This move comes in the wake of the Vatican's recent declaration that the Catholic Church will not bless same-sex unions since God "cannot bless sin" and doing so would create an equivalence to the sacrament of marriage, which it holds must be between a man and woman. For many Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates, the lack of institutional change amidst continual discrimination is disheartening. Boston College officials have not yet addressed this statement—yet another sign of the University's reluctance to commit ample support to its LGBTQ+ students.
"Having leaders like Secretary Walsh take a public stand in support of students at Boston College sends a powerful message that the university needs to do more to support queer and trans members of its community. We are incredibly grateful for his support," reads @bcequality's official statement.
Sign the petition here.
This article was updated on March 29, 2020 to include Mazareas's comments to The Gavel.