As a freshman, Luke Paddock ’12 didn’t start out at Nazareth. He began his first year at another college, and he found the experience nerve-racking. “It was not a friendly place for LGBT people,” he says. Like other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, he felt unable to tell anyone he had “accepted a life that was not okay with the school’s doctrine.”
Paddock transferred to Nazareth, knowing it was a more tolerant community, a place where he would be accepted. Even so, Nazareth’s openness on LGBT issues astonished him. Before he even arrived on campus, Paddock’s roommate agreement addressed questions such as whether or not it was okay to have someone of the same or opposite sex stay over. “It blew my mind that it was right there in the open,” he says.
Paddock calls his transfer to Nazareth the greatest decision he’s ever made. “It’s shocking and wonderful not to have being gay be the biggest part of me,” he says. “I’m Luke, I like to sing, I love coffee. People see me for me, not for being gay, which is wonderful.”
Fortunately, Paddock’s experiences at Nazareth are not unusual. The open-mindedness, the opportunities for dialogue and education, and the respect built into campus policies all reflect a college that strives to be inclusive and welcoming—to everyone. “I think there’s no question that students, faculty, and staff who are openly gay feel welcome,” says Gaynelle Wethers, director of Nazareth’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The College backs up that gay-friendly attitude with actions. Nazareth’s Lambda Association, which has provided education, advocacy, and support to the LGBT community since 1984, is one of the largest and most active student clubs on campus. It earned honors as Club of the Year in 2010. Lambda boasts nearly 50 students, 70 percent of whom are not gay, but rather straight allies.
Lambda’s current president, Lauren Berger ’12, says schools really need gay/straight alliances like Lambda to provide an open place of support. If you were one of those kids who never fit in, she says, “it doesn’t matter who you are or what you like to do or who you’re in love with. It’s a place where you can just go to be.”
Carlnita Greene, Ph.D., assistant professor/director of the communications and media program and the faculty advisor to Lambda, believes Lambda succeeds because their issues affect the whole campus community. “Their activities are available to all students,” she says. “They make the College as a whole more comfortable for everyone. That message resonates with a lot of students.” The club’s wide range of activities offers many different levels of participation, from education to activism, and that’s appealing as well, says Greene. “Not everyone is into marching and signing petitions. In Lambda, you can support LGBT efforts without always having to be an activist.”
Like Lambda, Nazareth’s Center for Spirituality (CFS) is also intent on creating a welcoming community. “Religious traditions have such a negative and powerful effect on the gay community,” says CFS Director Lynne Staropoli Boucher. “We as chaplains need to make sure that groups that have traditionally been excluded or marginalized by ‘religion’ are explicitly welcomed.”
Boucher, along with Nazareth’s Catholic and Protestant chaplains Jamie Fazio and Alison Schmied, work one-on-one with students and groups to undo what Boucher calls religious baggage. “We need to reinstate the invitation—we know you’re gay, and you’re welcome here,” she says.
Nazareth’s Office of Multicultural Affairs also sponsors many community and campus events in support of the LGBT community. A solid working relationship with the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley and access to good resources has created a full complement of opportunities.
“Conversations about all these issues allow us to explore, discuss, learn, and change,” says Wethers. “You can intellectualize all these issues, but when your son or daughter brings home a gay or lesbian partner, it’s no longer intellectual. It’s about heart. That’s why we need these stories—to help change people’s hearts.”
This welcoming attitude at Nazareth is more than just skin deep—scratch that surface, and you’ll find the College’s open-mindedness runs to the bone, written right into its policies and procedures. Its official Statement of Respect and Diversity, adopted in 1998 and revisited regularly, was recently updated to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression as well as sex and sexual orientation. The College provides benefits to same and opposite sex domestic partners of faculty and staff, and the chapel is home to both same and opposite sex marriages.
The College should of course be proud of all this, but it doesn’t mean no work remains. “The LG came first,” Boucher says. “The BT is tougher.” Transgender inclusion issues are the next step for the campus, and the College remains vigilant about all LGBT issues. “Each year, there are 400 to 500 new people on campus,” Wethers says. “We can never give up on delivering that message.”