The December 7, 2018 issue of the Saint Anselm Crier included a controversial opinion piece by Maria Benitz ’19 entitled, “In defense of flag removal.” Last week, a handful of small LGBTQ and Trans-gender flags appeared across campus, near walkways and on other green areas on campus. It is unclear who put the flags in the ground. But, within a few days of the flags appearing, they were gone. The removal of the flags has caused some controversy across campus but many students were not aware that they had been removed intentionally or maliciously.
In her letter, Benitz defended the removal of the flags. She wrote that the flags were not approved by the College’s Student Engagement and Leadership office and that, therefore, the flags should have been removed. It is not clear that the flags were not approved by SEAL or the Dean of Students’ Office but, if they were not, then it would have been proper for the appropriate authorities to remove the flags.
It is the second portion of Benitz’s letter that has caused the controversy. Benitz wrote, “Gay pride flags represent a movement that promotes a form of sexual promiscuity contrary to the virtue of chastity” promoted by the Catholic Church. She continued, “The Church cannot support the transgender pride movement, because this movement seeks to validate a form of mutilation of one’s God-given body.”
Several members of Saint Anselm College’s LGBTQ community provided a response to Bentiz’s article. Dennis Aveta ’20, wrote, “Calling non-heterosexual people ‘sexually promiscuous’, stating that no one should have sex if they can’t procreate, regarding gender affirmation surgery as the ‘mutilation’ of the body is overtly offensive…”
Aveta added, “The most common reaction from friends was shock that something so offensive and ridiculous could be printed in the school paper. But it wasn’t shocking to members of the community.” He continued, “We know the discrimination and intolerance we face on campus and in society, and now our allies are starting to understand it too. I am a proud gay man and will not accept homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any other form of discrimination based on one’s identity.”
Matthew Solomon, ’20, President of the College’s True Equality and Dignity Alliance (TEDA), released a statement responding to Benitz’s article on The Hilltopper. Solomon said, “I am sure these flags represented many things for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. They represented a chance to be seen when they are so often overlooked. They represented the love they have for members of the community who are closeted and may have needed to see that flag. And most importantly they represented the desperate cry for equality of the person who planted that flag.”
Solomon referenced the Unhooked event from last year, saying, “It seems as if only yesterday the campus was caught up in the discriminatory actions taken against the leader of the Knights of Columbus, or the series of anti-transgender talks sponsored by the college.”
Solomon also spoke about the impact that Benitz’s article, and the sentiments expressed in it, may have on members of the Saint Anselm College community. He wrote, “My heart goes out to anyone on campus that is still in the closet and has to see things like these articles being published, or the flags being taken down out of intolerance. However, a part of me is appreciative that this is happening. Some of you may be wondering why these little flags and the responses they received are such a big deal. They show the attitude on campus that is still very much there, that the LGBTQ+ community is expected to live quietly on campus. That we are not allowed to express ourselves and be seen for the beauty that our diversity gives us.”
The Hilltopper reached out to the Editor-in-Chief of the Saint Anselm Crier, Em Craig, for a comment on the publishing of Bentiz’s article. On the Crier‘s website, Craig wrote, “We are in support of our students’ right to share their opinions with the school. To deny a student that right, we are denying them their right to free speech.” It is worth noting that the Supreme Court of the United States has created several restrictions on the freedom of speech from the First Amendment, especially when malice, ill-will, and defamation are involved with the speech in question, even in opinion pieces (Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 1990)
The following statement from the Culture Editor of the Crier was posted on December 10: “The editorial team of the Crier does not espouse any of the beliefs published in our newspaper except for the editorials which we write. The Opinion section is meant as a platform for the students of Saint Anselm College, which is a bipartisan campus. This openness means that some of our editions may skew in a certain direction because students who feel strongly about their political background are taking advantage of the Crier’s policy. That is not to say that The Crier is not open to the other side of the conversation. We promote honest and free discussion.”
It seems that the controversy surrounding LGBTQ+ issues on campus is far from over.