“I did not ever plan to be an LGBT director or to be doing gender and sexuality work,” said Brian Patchcoski, associate dean and director of Cornell’s LGBT Resource Center. As an undergraduate at the University of Scranton, Patchcoski trained to become a Catholic priest.
Born into a Roman Catholic family, Patchcoski said he was determined to be a priest. When the seminary he entered after high school closed, he was faced with transferring to a more conservative seminary or leaving the seminary system completely. When he visited the new seminary with his mother, she was not allowed past the front door because “she was a woman,” Patchcoski recounted.
“That didn’t sit well with me,” he said.
Instead of transferring, Patchcoski decided to become a priest “some other way” and entered the University of Scranton, a Catholic and Jesuit school.
“I always knew that I was gay since middle school. I liked Rob in gym class,” Patchcoski said. “I knew that, but sexuality was never really a huge thing to me in those moments.”
Patchcoski said he began coming out after discussions with a professor about LGBT issues and religion. In the course of these discussions, he said he came to understand that homosexuality and religion were largely incompatible.
“At that point, I had the perception that they couldn’t go together, that I couldn’t be openly gay and religious,” Patchcoski said. “I also really believed that the church was telling me that.”
When he came out at the University of Scranton, he found that there were “no LGBT resources.” As he identified more as a gay man, Patchcoski said he shifted away from Catholicism.
“The religion thing wasn’t making sense anymore because I kept hearing the narrative, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin,’” Patchcoski said. “I couldn’t fathom being welcome into a space when it really wasn’t welcoming, if I couldn’t bring my full self. This was now part of me.”
While pursuing a master’s in community counseling and working at a diversity consortium, Patchcoski decided he wanted to work in a setting with a stronger focus on higher education. He transferred to Penn State, where he completed his graduate work and stayed on to work at that university’s LGBT resource center.
“I had this huge institutional context setting,” Patchcoski said of Penn State. “The center there was very well-established, very well-staffed.”
He later moved to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he became the founding director of the LGBT resource center. After a campus climate survey revealed that “it was just not a good place” for LGBT students, faculty and staff, Dickinson administrators “decided that it was time for a change” and created the center. While some at the school were reluctant or hostile to the new center, he said his main focus was encouraging people to “walk this journey together.”
Patchcoski said he encouraged students and faculty by telling them, “You may not get this, you may not understand this, but let’s figure out a way that you can help us and help this community grow whether you fully support it or not.”
After a few years, Patchcoski moved to his current position at Cornell, where he says “we still have lots of work to do.”
Cornell has given Patchcoski the “challenge” of creating a basic awareness among students, faculty and staff of issues facing LGBT members of the community.
“This is everyone’s work,” he added. “The reason that acronym [LGBT] has grown is because we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible.”
Patchcoski said he believes one of the main challenges he faces is emphasizing the importance of diversity work to everyone in the Cornell community.
“I am hoping that the center is being seen as really reflecting the intersectional nature of diversity work and justice-related work,” he said. “By no means can we just work under the LGBT umbrella.”
Efforts to create an inclusive day-to-day experience for Cornellians must incorporate considerations of racial justice, economic justice, ability status and veteran status, Patchcoski said.
“I want to make sure that we are not just painting the picture of LGBT anymore,” Patchcoski said. “It’s our historic name, but I think we have a responsibility to the community to be much more than that.”
Though he no longer plans to become a Catholic priest, Patchcoski said ministry work and counseling work are both forms of “human work.”
“As a priest, I would have been sitting with people in crisis situations at times or walking with them at the hardest points of their lives. I’m doing the same thing here,” Patchcoski said.
Though he is “very careful” not to bring up religion in situations where students or faculty may have been “traumatized by religion,” Patchcoski said he believes the common thread between spirituality and counseling is a search for meaning.
Though his position is not the one he imagined for himself as an undergrad, Patchcoski appreciates the “adventure” of his career.
“As much as my intended journey is different from where I am now, I think what’s exciting is that life is full of adventures and sometimes has a sense of humor.”