By Courtney Klaus, Managing Editor
Kaleidoscope, Newman’s LGBT+ organization, is in no danger of shutting down, despite recent efforts from outside the Newman community to pressure the administration to eliminate the group, said Kaleidoscope Advisor and Vice President for Student Affairs Vic Trilli.
“We are there to support and protect,” Trilli said. “We have a great committee of staff, priests and sisters…I think it’s fair to say that with that grouping, the organization is going to remain protected.”
Emails calling to shut down the organization came after the university made the decision to cancel an art exhibit in the Steckline Gallery that focused on prominent LGBT+ figures in Kansas history.
The Wichita Eagle reported that local Catholic speaker and author Jean Heimann circulated an email calling for the shutdown of the art exhibit the weekend before the cancellation was announced by the university. Her email said the art exhibit could “expose students to evil.”
Provost Kimberly McDowell Long said at the time the decision was made, she was unaware of Heimann’s emails and did not hear about them until the media reports came out.
Heimann, who received her master’s in theology from Newman in 2012, sent out another mass email on Jan. 18 titled “Let’s Close Down the LGBT Group, Too!”
The Vantage received no response from Heimann after reaching out to her for comment several times.
Following the exhibit’s cancellation, students expressed concern about the future of Kaleidoscope and future support for LGBT+ students in general.
“I’m a little anxious to see how the administration handles that, considering that they closed down the exhibit,” Kaleidoscope member Samantha Rader said. “I think by the university closing the exhibit, it gave them the green light that says, ‘Hey, if you complain about something, we are going to shut it down.’”
The email from Heimann contained a call to action from Father Edmond Kline, a priest in the Wichita diocese, stating Kaleidoscope “needs to be closed down.”
Fr. Kline wrote that “the bishop can use the seminarians as a card as in a poker hand to convince Newman to discontinue the organization.”
The seminarians Fr. Kline refers to are taking classes at Newman through the St. Joseph House of Formation program.
Fr. Kline’s original message was connected to a forward from an additional email he claims to have sent to Newman’s administration. In the email, Fr. Kline wrote that Kaleidoscope directly went against Catholic teaching by recognizing LGBT+ students as a “community.”
“Would the university also recognize the community Islamic Jihad as an organization? Would the University also recognize the community white supremacist, KKK as an organization? If you were to take the plan you currently have for LGBTQ and apply it to these organizations which also contradict Catholic teaching…you would have the same problem,” Fr. Kline’s email said.
Long said there does not seem to be significant new public outcry against Kaleidoscope, and that the university will “continue to support the pastoral plan for the care of persons who are LGBTQ.”
“I think it’s important to understand the decision to cancel the exhibit is separate from Kaleidoscope,” she said. “The organization’s creation was the culmination of more than a year of effort between the Newman University community and others within our diocese. There were those who responded negatively when it was created, and that has not changed.”
Kaleidoscope member Jose Rojas-Montero said that he hopes the organization will continue to rise above the negative pressures from the community. He also said the hurtful rhetoric only makes the organization stronger.
“One positive thing about this whole situation is that I’ve seen more interest in not just the organization, but in the LGBT+ community here,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of support from faculty…I’ve seen students come up to me and be like, ‘Can you send me the information about the club? I really want to join.’ People that are not necessarily affected by this, are angry about this.”