Gannon University’s LIFE – Love is for Everyone – campus ministry group not only helps students explore their inner faith, but also provides a supportive environment for LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered – students and their peers.
Roughly two years ago, Chad Gauthier, a senior information systems major, founded LIFE and since then the group has grown to include an active membership of about 25 people and 100 others who remain informed as a part of their e-mail list.
According to junior psychology major Matt Kridel, who is the group’s president, LIFE is the result of trying to find the best way to serve LGBT students and their allies, heterosexual supporters, on Gannon’s campus.
Deacon Steve Washek, LIFE’s co-adviser, said all students should feel welcomed and included on campus.
“I think the group is doing very well for as new as they are,” Washek said. “They are looking at what is the best way for them to be involved on campus and how to get their name known.”
There are two big slogans associated with LIFE. The first one is the basis for the group’s name, “Love is for Everyone,” and the second one is “I Am Me,” which is emblazoned across their shirts and wristbands that members started wearing last year.
“Those slogans pretty much sum up our mission and it extends to all people, regardless of race, religion, color, sexuality, gender, or any identifying factor,” Kridel said. “Everyone deserves to be loved and to openly be whoever they are.”
Students at Gannon should be more loving towards the LGBT community, Shelby Heppner, a sophomore education major, said.
“Some of my closest friends here at Gannon are homosexual,” Heppner said.
LIFE members participated in their first of Gannon’s annual GIVE Day. The group also works with other colleges in the area such as Penn State Behrend, Edinboro and Mercyhurst universities.
Recognition is one very important goal to the group, Kridel said.
“LGBT students and their allies on campus needed a group of peers they could identify with and find support among,” he said. “And a group needed to exist that could educate the Gannon community about the LGBT society.”
A pastoral statement was made in 1996 to the Gannon community called “Sexuality as God’s Gift and Our Response to Gay and Lesbian Student Concerns,” which can be found in Section 7.8 of the student handbook.
This outlines Gannon’s call as a Catholic university to love and support the LGBT brothers and sisters just as much as any other.
“I’m sure there are people at Gannon who don’t support or understand the LGBT community but we love them just the same and I encourage them to make an effort to learn that there is very little that makes us different from them,” Kridel said.
LIFE is also an honorary member of PSEC – Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition – which endorses anti-bullying.
“I got involved in PSEC because for 4 1/2 years of my schooling I was victimized by bullying because of factors I could not control,” Jared Schaaf, a sophomore theology major, said.
Over the course of LIFE’s history the group has hosted events such as their annual Prayer Vigil to End Hatred, which is a candle light vigil that remembers victims of LGBT hate crimes, and Day of Silence, which occurs at schools nationally.
The next Day of Silence will take place on April 19, 2013, and will encourage people to take a vow of silence for the day to call attention to the silence that bullying can cause.
“I feel like, when it comes to minority issues – especially LGBT issues – the student body doesn’t do enough to show the ‘Christ-like’ sense of love that LIFE is meant to show,” Schaaf said. “These men and women deserve our respect and deserve dignity and we should go the extra mile to show that.”