Allow me to take you back to April of this year. Seattle rains are coming down, the academic year is coming to a close, and student excitement is building around the much-awaited event: the Seattle University Drag Show. When I was a prospective student, hearing that SU had a drag show was a huge appeal. Not because I perform in drag, or that I’ve ever been involved in it, but that this was a university that celebrated self-expression and students here could take it and run with it. Students and professors alike had the opportunity to flourish with authenticity and creativity. Now, I got the dates wrong and ended up missing the event (I know, I was devastated), but from friends who went, they said it was spectacular. I didn’t doubt them.
Curiously, word about the drag show didn’t end with the show. The university newspaper The Spectator covered the event, as would be expected, posting a photo from the event as the front page. I thought it was wonderful, seeing it in the stands around school. But it didn’t end there.
Scandal struck when certain university professors went around campus, removing as many copies of the publication as they could because they were “ashamed”. You can read The Stranger’s article on what went down here.
Ashamed? When I caught wind of what was going on, I was confused. Seattle University rests in the heart of Capitol Hill, a notably LGBTQ+ neighborhood. I had only ever seen and heard positive things about the LGBTQ+ experience on campus, that the school was continually doing things to make sure students felt safe, comfortable, and celebrated. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, but this school was not, from my understanding, a hostile place for such individuals.
My confusion quickly turned to anger as I read Father Sundborg’s public comments on the matter.
"I thought it was indecent," Sundborg said. "I thought it offended all dignity and respect of sexuality and of persons of bodies. I think it was a mistake on the part of the editorial staff to put that on the cover. I was offended by it... Anybody who would see that who has a sense of propriety would find that offensive."
What? And it got worse.
"I allow the drag show," Sundborg continued. "Most Jesuit-Catholic universities would not. But then to go and show that pose—indecent pose—from a drag show on the cover is taking it too far. It doesn't support me in my support of having the drag show on campus, which I allow to have, which I needn't do, but I do. But then to take it and to push it to the cover of a magazine with an indecent post from that, expose it out—these are not people then that have chosen to go to a drag show that are seeing that. These are not people who understand what that is. They've taken it too far."
I was--am angry for several reasons. His statements are wildly hurtful to the LGBTQ+ plus community. In only a few sentences, Sundborg has expressed that he does not see the non-heterosexual, non-binary, non-conservative community as equal to its counterparts. His statements suggest that he does not see them as deserving of respect, rights, and dignity. It was also a moment in which I realized that not everyone views Christianity or understands the values of the Jesuits the same way that I do. For my part, I am agnostic, but I was raised Catholic, attended a Catholic elementary and middle school and a Catholic-Jesuit high school. I’ve grown up being taught over and over the values and teachings of Christianity and the Jesuits. Anything in line with hatred, shaming, or rejection of persons is not a part of those teachings.
To clarify, the Bible says nothing against homosexuality. So the entire Christian argument that homosexuality is a sin is utter nonsense. And for those who preach that trans existence is a slap in the face to God--I’d first like to applaud the person who can slap a deity, and secondly raise a question. If we are perfect as God made us, then who is to say that a trans life is not what God created? Drag shows are a way in which individuals may express themselves, at times differently than how their world understands them or how they present themselves in their day-to-day lives. Additionally, you can’t say that a trans life is “not natural” or offensive to life. The Crusades are offensive to life. Denying women abortions when they desperately need them is offensive to life. Also, there are plenty of animals who can change their genders biologically. It is not quite so simple to claim that something is “not natural”.
Now. Let’s take a look at Sundborg’s comments again, because I am absolutely holding his words against him.
“I thought it was indecent.” The person’s body was completely covered; quite frankly, I don’t see where the indecency comes in.
“I thought it offended all dignity and respect of sexuality and of persons of bodies.” Do you know what offends the dignity and respect of sexuality? Conversion therapy. Shaming people for their sexual preferences. Shaming people for their sexual and romantic attractions. Moving rapist and molesting priests from church to church because as an institution, you can’t handle the shame that comes from their crimes. Ingraining in people for centuries the belief that their existence is wrong, despite the fact that, according to Christianity, we are all made in God’s image. Is that then to say, Sundborg, that God is wrong?
What really got me, moving forward with his statements, is how much I felt the need to check that these words weren’t coming from Trump. “ It doesn't support me in my support of having the drag show on campus, which I allow to have, which I needn't do, but I do.“ How he managed to take an event celebrating self expression and individuality and make it about himself, I have no idea. But wow, I don’t think I could have done a better job of burning the veil that illusioned us all into thinking that Sundborg gives a damn about creating an environment in which people can be their true selves. I have not read a sentence that lacked love so profoundly as that one, in its context.
This happened this past spring, but I’m not over it. It still infuriates me months later. Why? I don’t know that he ever apologized. Students took action and demanded trans-friendly housing and trans-inclusive curriculum--and that’s amazing. But students did that, not Sundborg. And he did not misspeak; his words were sent in an email, words that he typed out, reviewed, and decided, “yes, I want these published.” That he felt such words were an appropriate representation of the faith he claims to be a part of causes me to question if he even truly understands what it means to be loving, to care for the whole person, to encourage the growth of others.
So, Father Sundborg. The Jesuit priest and president of Seattle University. Allow me to guide your attention to the H entries of the dictionary, where you’ll find a definition for “hypocrite”, and know that your searing words will forever be branded over your name for me. For the heaven I’m sure you believe in, I hope you’re prepared to face your words at your reckoning.
For the LGBTQ+ community, you have my support. You have the support of Her Campus. You have the passion and hunger for justice of the students at this university. One man cannot squash the passion and strength of an entire student body; believe in that.