St. Thomas University

Controversy at South Florida School Pits LGBTQ Group Against Administration

When members of the Lambda Law Society asked the administration to provide a bus to the Miami Beach Pride Parade, St. Thomas University's president denied the request and allegedly threatened them with severe consequences

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St. Thomas University’s law school has an active, university-approved chapter of the Lambda Law Society, an LGBTQ advocacy group. 

“Lambda Law Society has been here over 10 years. They are represented at events, they’re on our website, they have their own social media, and we have never had any issues that even smell of discrimination with them,” said Carlos de Yarza, the university’s VP of marketing. 

However, according to a letter allegedly written by a group of law school faculty members, when members of the Lambda Law Society asked the administration to provide a bus in which the group could ride in the Miami Beach Pride Parade next month, university president David Armstrong denied the request and allegedly threatened them with severe consequences.

“The President of the University forbade the Lambda organization from attending the Pride Parade if they exhibited any affiliation with STU. Finally, the President stated that if any STU faculty or staff member appeared in the Pride Parade in an STU shirt, he or she would be immediately fired. These actions and statements violate the University Student Handbook, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the letter reads in part. 

“These are extreme measures, these are really extreme measures that are actually signaling that is it a university campus that is not tolerant of the LGBTQ community,” said Orlando Gonzales, president of S.A.V.E. Dade, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. 

“The president has denied those allegations,” De Yarza said. “Of ever saying that, and it’s not like President Armstrong to say something like that anyway.”

Gonzalez says the university has an obligation to treat all student groups equally. 

“They have to think more broadly about how they operate in the context of discrimination so I’m very sad to see Catholicism or religion is being weaponized,” Gonzales said. 

The St. Thomas University administration sent us this statement at about 2 p.m. Monday, saying, “St. Thomas University, a Catholic institution, welcomes the diversity of the women and men of its student body and faculty. While the university encourages individuals to express their personal opinions and beliefs according to their conscience, only activities in compliance coherent with the Catholic teachings and traditions are sponsored by St. Thomas University as dictated by its mission, protocols, and policies.”

When we spoke to De Yarza just after 4 p.m., he added more details to that statement. He said any student could go to the parade, so I asked him if that meant Lambda Law Society members are free to go wearing St. Thomas University gear. 

“Nobody at the Lambda Law Society is going to be penalized in any way for participating in the parade,” De Yarza responded.

Sponsoring their appearance is another matter. De Yarza said as a Catholic university, St. Thomas must adhere to Catholic doctrine in choosing which activities to formally sponsor. 

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