Badger Catholic, a registered student organization (RSO) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hosted Catholic speaker and author Kim Zember for a talk about “her personal experience with homosexuality and life with Christ” followed by a Q&A session last Thursday. The event was promoted in an email to all students and met with concerns from some due to Zember’s rhetoric.
According to the Badger Catholic budget provided by Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Grant Allocation Committee Chair Andrew Pietroske, the ASM finances the Badger Catholic guest speakers program. Out of Badger Catholic’s almost $60,000 budget, $9,500 goes to this series.
Next year, Badger Catholic’s guest speaker program fund will have $14,400 in funding, an increase of almost $5,000. Last fall, Wisconsin Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) controversially hosted Matt Walsh with funding in part from a similar ASM grant, according to the budget.
ASM distributes segregated fees — charges all UW-Madison students pay — to RSOs in a “viewpoint neutral” manner, meaning an organization’s viewpoints or history will not be considered when making financial decisions, according to an ASM bylaw and the United States Supreme Court decision UW System v. Southworth.
Due to the phrasing of the email and the invitation to students of all backgrounds, some students believed the event would be supportive toward LGBTQ+ identities. However, after further investigation into Zember’s background, some students expressed concerns about the talk.
“Upon receiving the email, we felt very strongly about coming just because of the way things were worded. A lot of words in the email were very inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Mia Warren, a UW-Madison student and member of Sex Out Loud. “A lot of people, from the wording of the email, did not understand that the talk would be encouraging people not to act on the ‘gay lifestyle.’”
In a series of videos on her website, Zember describes herself as a “Once Married Lesbian,” detailing her transition toward her faith and away from the “gay lifestyle.”
During her talk on campus, Zember touched on these ideas, and compared homosexuality and pedophilia, while defending a “natural” family structure with one mother and one father. She then pulled on scripture, calling homosexuality “objectively disordered.”
While some of the audience included regular attendees of Badger Catholic events, many individuals who chose to ask questions during the Q&A challenged Zember’s ideas. Leaders of Sex Out Loud decided to attend the event to offer up an alternative perspective on Zember’s ideas. Jane Houseal, a UW-Madison student and representative from Sex Out Loud, spoke to attendees during the Q&A session.
“We knew that there would be people in that audience who were questioning their faith and questioning their sexuality,” Houseal said. “As someone who is part of the LGBTQ community and likes to advocate for sexual health and equality all the time, I wanted to let everyone know, and everyone in the church know, that there are other options and that we are willing to help them find those other options.”
Sex Out Loud posted a statement on social media critiquing the usage of “pro-LGBTQIA+ language to discuss potentially harmful topics on the basis of faith and religion.” Similar to Badger Catholic, Sex Out Loud hosts guest speakers on campus, one of which spoke on the “Feminist Sex Toy Revolution” Monday evening.
Planning Zember’s talk, the opportunity for new ‘perspectives’
At the beginning of the Q&A session, Badger Catholic President Max Sherwin shared that two years of planning led to Zember’s presence on campus. Approximately 175 students swiped their Wiscards to attend the event, according to Sherwin.
“We just wanted Kim to come here and share about how the church approaches the topic of sexuality and preach her lesson of love,” he said.
Alexis Bakken, vice president of Badger Catholic, reiterated this sentiment.
“We knew that Kim would come here and really talk about love and acceptance as opposed to someone who would come and stir,” Bakken said. “I think it is really hard these days when so many people disagree [on these topics]. We have a lot of trust and faith in [Zember].”
Bakken and Sherwin appreciated that many members of the audience who engaged with Zember do not regularly attend Badger Catholic’s events, and both enjoyed hearing from varied “perspectives.”
“When we got to [the] Q&A, I thought it was great. People who don’t typically come to our events were asking questions,” Sherwin said. “It’s a university, and it doesn’t do us any good if we sit in an echo chamber and just bounce the same ideas that we hold off of one another. It was super cool to get other people’s perspectives from the audience.”
Bakken also noted that she was glad the event did not become violent and there were no protesters.
“We were just really blessed that there were no protesters or any violence because you never really know with events like this that get a bigger response,” Bakken added. “Most of the time, people do not even know our events are happening.”
The event lasted about two hours and can be viewed on Badger Catholic’s Facebook. For students interested in further discussing topics related to faith and sexuality, Sex Out Loud runs a peer mentor program, and the UW Gender and Sexuality Campus Center hosts a similar program specific to LGBTQ+ students.
Editor's note: Sex Out Loud hosts a podcast under The Daily Cardinal Media Corporation. Mia Warren is a co-host of the show. Jane Houseal has also contributed to The Daily Cardinal Life & Style and News desks.
Noe Goldhaber is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in campus and state news reporting.