When University of St. Thomas senior Jon Distad became the school's student body president last year, his predecessor gave him some sage advice: "He told me to find a hole and fill it," remembers Distad. What Distad found lacking at the UST campus in St. Paul was a place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals to go and voice their concerns and find support. Subsequently, Distad and UST senior Tess Koppelman founded the Ally Group to "educate the straight population and create a more respective and civil community at St. Thomas."
The fledgling group took a blow in November, however, when 150 of their posters promoting a week of educational events were ripped down within 48 hours of their being posted.
The posters, intended to make people think twice about their words and actions, blared "Fag/Dyke/Gay/Lesbian/Homo" in large yellow letters; at the bottom read a solemn warning: "Watch what you're saying, you might be disrespectful of someone you know and love." The posters had been pre-approved for hanging by the Center for Student Leadership and Activities.
Koppelman suspects that the act wasn't random. She told the school newspaper, The Aquin: "I would like to think it wasn't an organized effort, but you have to wonder when almost all the posters were taken down."
Despite the act of vandalism, Distad is relatively optimistic about St. Thomas' growing tolerance toward non-heterosexuals. "It used to be that if you asked if there were any gays on campus, the official response would be no, there couldn't be any gays on campus because St. Thomas is a Catholic university. And still, I think that a lot of people here are hiding their bigotry behind what they think the Catholic church thinks."
Distad concedes that things are better for queers on the St. Thomas campus than they used to be, but he adds that the school and its students still have a long way to go in creating a safe space for GLBT individuals. "Simple tolerance would be a good start," he says.