April 27, 2009

Vigil Protests Actions of Chi Alpha, Demands Greater LGBT Rights

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More than 200 people gathered in front of McGraw Hall, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship’s meeting location, on Friday night for a 30-minute silent vigil in support of Chris Donohoe ’09, a student who was asked to step down from a leadership position in the fellowship due to his sexual orientation.
“It was wonderful, I was overwhelmed with such a gratitude,” said Donohoe, who stood before the crowd for more than a minute gathering himself from tears before he could enunciate his closing address. “The support from this community was so uplifting to me. I think I would remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
Blanca Hernandez ’10, Donohoe’s best friend, organized the vigil through a Facebook event in order to help Donohoe attract more people to his cause. She found the event a success.[img_assist|nid=37240|title=In solidarity|desc=Supporters of Chris Donohoe ’09, who was removed from his leadership position in the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship last week, staged a silent demonstration in support of LGBT rights in front of McGraw Hall on Friday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Chris was talking about how I have different friends than him and no one would turn up [from my invite list]. The turnout was much, much bigger than we expected. We were very surprised,” Hernandez said.
Students who attended the vigil said they were empowered and touched by the event.
“For a University that throws a lot of weighty words around, words such as ‘diversity’, ‘acceptance’, ‘equality’, I have rarely felt as touched by the Cornell spirit of caring and fairness as I did at the Against Homosexual Discrimination vigil this past Friday,” Melanie Jacobs ‘09 stated in an email.
“I found the vigil to be the most powerful and respectful demonstration I’ve seen at Cornell,” stated Nicky Chopra ’09 in an e-mail. “[It] was beautiful, and clearly the first symbolic step in some crucial improvements for the rights of all Cornellians, regardless of race, color, creed and orientation.”
Many Christian students, such as Daniel Tattersall ’12, also expressed sympathy for Chris’s position. They also maintained that in order to receive funding from the Student Assembly Finance Commission, student organizations need to comply with SAFC guidelines as well as University guidelines which include stipulation against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“There are many Christian sects that say being Christian is not at odds with being gay,” Tatterall added.
“I myself am of the Christian faith, and the messages of tolerance and love for one’s neighbor are the most important convictions that I have taken away from my religion,” Liz Curran ’10 said. “I do not think anything can overcome these most basic messages of faith and humanity, and it saddens me that Chi Alpha failed to recognize this.”
Danielle D’Ambroso ’10, president of Chi Alpha, responded to this sentiment by pointing out that although a lot of people seem to think that Chi Alpha has something against homosexuals, she has reaffirmed multiple times that the group really does not hold a grudge against Chris or other homosexuals, and that she and Chris are still friends.
“I don’t have any hate towards them — I love them because they’re people. I disagree with their actions, but I disagree with a lot of people’s actions; I disagree with my own sometimes,” D’Ambroso said.
She also said that she does not have much knowledge about Chi Alpha’s funding situation in the future because meetings are still being held regarding that issue.
“There were people from the Christian community outside of Chi Alpha who came to support us,” said Cesar Rivadeneyra grad, vice president of Chi Alpha. “We normally do a sermon and a worship session, but [Friday] night we just prayed because it was such a [meaningful] night for us,” he added.
For Donohoe, the goal of the vigil was to motivate progressive policy change and student awareness for the neglected LGBT and minority community.
Donohoe also claimed that he was removed from his leadership position back in November 2008. The event is surfacing now, Donohoe said, because he could not decide how to deal with the complicated situation. He first attempted to maintain close relationships with members of Chi Alpha, but quickly realized it was impossible.
“It was just a growing process, not only what happened [with Chi Alpha] but everything that led up to it. In high school, I was sent to counseling every week for four years by my family to break from my sexuality,” Donohoe said.
The first University personnel he opened up to was Nina Cummings, health educator at Gannett Health Services, who referred Donohoe to Mary Beth Grant, the judicial administrator who oversees incidents of violations against Cornell’s code of conduct, right before winter break.
Grant took an interest in Donohoe’s situation. After examining the appropriate University documents and meeting with the University council, she advised Donohoe that it is best to pursue this issue through the Dean of Students, and passed Donohoe onto Kent Hubbell ’67, the Dean of Students, as well as Reverend Kenneth Clark Sr. of Cornell United Religious Works.
According to Grant, there were three documents that were pertinent to Donohoe’s situation, all of which were not violated by Chi Alpha’s actions. The first document, the Campus Code of Actions, contains an “explicit loophole” that allowed Chi Alpha to expel Donohoe from his leadership position without incurring punishment. The second document, the Independent Organization Contract which is mandatory for all campus organizations, states that all students must be guaranteed membership regardless of his or her gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Since Chi Alpha removed Donohoe from leadership, not membership, this document was not violated either. The third document, the CURW Covenant, is a very complicated document drafted to outline the religious rights of organizations like Chi Alpha.
“It was really disturbing how none of the documents actually protect LGBT and minority students. It’s a slippery slope and those documents must be changed,” Donohoe said.
Grant was so surprised by the obvious loophole in the Campus Code of Actions that she immediately filed a request to revise the Code. After meeting with several University officials after spring break, Donohoe says progress is on the way.
“To my understanding the University is going to change them,” Donohoe said. “But the process is slow. The [Independent Organization Contract] will hopefully be revised by the beginning of the next school year, so next year when student groups sign that contract there will be slightly different wording that guarantees not only membership, but also the full benefits of membership, including eligibility for leadership and other things [for LGBT students].”
“At this point, [this is] actually a policy battle, not an intent to punish Chi Alpha,” Donohoe said. “The real story is LGBT center [which is effected by the budget cuts], the polic[ies] that need to be changed, and groups on campus that still support [the actions of] Chi Alpha.”
Donohoe says he will remain a faithful Christian regardless of Chi Alpha’s actions, and plans to pursue “a career as a social activist to make America a better nation, and dedicate [his] life to social change.”
“[The vigil] was the culmination of everything I’ve come from, and everywhere I’m going,” he said.