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Florida State student government removes president for privately stating Catholic teaching on LGBT issues

Catholic group chat leaked; critics say his comments make them feel unsafe

Jack Denton learned the hard way that sharing his views privately was not compatible with his leadership role at Florida State University.

The Student Government Association voted overwhelmingly to force out the Senate president in a late Friday vote, according to a Saturday update on a Change.org petition seeking Denton’s ouster for stating Catholic doctrine on LGBT issues in a private group chat.

The SGA has not confirmed the results of the vote as of Monday night, even though it tweeted a statement from its executive team at 11 p.m. Friday urging Denton to voluntarily step down. Its page for the senate president, however, now lists a different student, Ahmad Omar Daraldik. Denton was still listed as president as of Sunday morning.

Gannett-owned FSUNews.com, which covers Florida State news, stated flatly that Denton had made “transphobic and exclusionary comments” in the Catholic Student Union group chat at FSU.

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The purportedly objective news organization also called Denton’s comments “problematic” and said the campus LGBT community, which demanded Denton’s removal, was “on the defensive against” his “derogatory speech.”

Group chat participants were discussing the fatal police shooting of Tony McDade, who was a suspect in a fatal stabbing. (FSUNews.com described McDade as “a transgender man” but WFSU described the person as “gender nonconforming,” noting that McDade alternately used “he” and “she” pronouns on social media.)

Screenshots provided by FSUNews.com show that someone had posted a list of organizations that were receiving “add revenue.” (The context is not clear, and FSUNews.com does not provide it.) They included BlackLivesMatter.com, Reclaim the Block and the ACLU.

“The various funds on that list are fine causes as far as I know, but everyone should be aware that” those three organizations “all advocate for things that are explicitly anti-Catholic,” Denton wrote in the chat. Asked to elaborate, he said the first “defends transgenderism,” the second protects abortion facilities and sues states that restrict abortion, and the third advocates cutting police budgets, which is “contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good.”

His comments apparently upset some chat participants. “I don’t mean to anger anyone,” Denton responded, but said that Catholics should “know what you’re supporting”:

If I stay silent while my brothers and sisters may be supporting an organization that promotes grave evils, I have sinned through my silence. I love you all, and I want us all to be aware of the truth.

A queer participant in the private chat leaked it to Senator Kundhavi Gnanam, who characterized Denton’s comments as calling queer people “grave evils” and intending to hurt them both “emotionally” and “physically.” Other senators, including a man who identifies as a woman and the founder of the “pride caucus,” said Denton’s comments made them feel unsafe.

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Gnanam offered a vote of no-confidence at the June 3 SGA meeting via Zoom, which failed, prompting a walkout by several senators that deprived the Senate of a quorum, according to FSUNews.com. Student Lauren Callahan created the petition demanding Denton’s removal right after, and the SGA scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday.

The full text of the petition: “Jack Denton, the current FSU Senate President, made transphobic and racist remarks in a Group-Me chat in the wake of the murder of Tony McDade. Transphobic and racist behavior and comments will not be tolerated in any form at any level at FSU.” It drew more than 7,600 signatures. The FSU chapters of Amnesty International and the College Democrats, as well as the Pride Student Union, also called for his resignation.

During the “initial proceedings” on June 4, according to the newspaper, Denton said he was simply stating “the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and what we believe as Catholics” in the group chat. He would not have said them “in a public setting” or “for the purpose or intention of hurting anyone.”

FSUNews.com quoted two self-identified Catholics “who feel as though their religion is being misconstrued in a hateful manner” by Denton, but not any of his defenders in the group chat, even though the newspaper had obtained the chat logs. (One critic was upset that others in the chat “rallied behind” Denton’s views.)

Read the FSUNews.com article and Change.org petition.

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IMAGE: Franciscan University of Steubenville / YouTube.com

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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