Sacred Heart University affirmed its support for the LGBTQ+ community with an event, “As You Are,” following the Vatican’s recent decision that the Catholic Church will not bless same-sex unions.
The celebration of LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff took place March 29 at SHU’s Fairfield campus, with music from local singer Erick Sanchez and remarks by University President John J. Petillo and a host of others.
While the Vatican’s decision on same-sex marriages disappointed the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, Sacred Heart leaders say the University remains steadfast in its support of LGBTQ+ individuals. “Sacred Heart is a community of faith, which will continue to welcome and respect each and every person. Driven by our Christian mission, we will continue to be a community of welcome and respect. Together, and only together, can we grow in the richness of God’s gifts and love,” said Petillo.
Michelle Loris, chair of Catholic studies and associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, spoke of acceptance. “Not every Catholic university would hold an event aimed at celebrating and affirming the LGBTQ community. But our University is distinct and unique. It stands for inclusivity and embraces all people with love. It stands against any form of hatred or prejudice, no matter the source,” said Loris.
Father Anthony Ciorra, SHU’s vice president for mission integration, ministry and multicultural affairs, also spoke at the event, as did campus minister Valerie Kisselback, Amanda Wagner, assistant director of transfer admissions, and Robert Johnson, director of multicultural affairs. The Rev. Sara D. Smith, a chaplain at SHU and senior minister at the United Congregational Church of Bridgeport, praised the University, saying, “As an out lesbian clergy, I am very proud of the statement SHU is making. Dr. P[etillo], it could very well save lives.
“I want the LGBTQ students to hear it from me—I know the hearts of these people who have spoken, and they are sincere. They are the beginning of safe zones and allies that will be created here on campus for all of you,” Smith continued. She called on others in attendance to join her in proclaiming to the LGBTQ+ community, “You are created and loved by God—as you are.”
Carlos Ruiz ’21, who attended the rally, said the event helped people feel accepted. “I believe it’s important that we have events like these. While I’m so fortunate to never have experienced any discrimination for my sexuality and have always felt welcomed at SHU, which helped me to be the leader I am today, that doesn’t mean all students have had my similar experience,” he said.
“I think SHU is taking all the proper steps to ensure that we are a welcoming campus. I would like to see more students be able to attend these events, specifically those who think and feel they aren’t welcomed. The only way they can feel that comfortable is by being at these types of events,” said Ruiz.