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Festival a step in right direction

Observer Editorial | Friday, February 13, 2004

Five years ago, Notre Dame students were participating in hunger strikes to protest the University’s policy toward homosexuals.

This week, department-sponsored students are running and attending the first Queer Film Festival on campus.

It’s a big change – and a huge step in the right direction.

Granted, the University’s policy toward homosexual individuals – both students and faculty – is still far from perfect. The same issues that prompted protests and controversy throughout the 1990s are still unresolved. Gay groups are still denied club status and the University’s non-discrimination clause still does not include homosexuals.

But considering Notre Dame’s outspoken, hard-core Catholic identity, its reluctance to fully and openly sanction homosexual causes or groups is somewhat understandable. The backlash from various Catholic organizations and alumni would most likely be overwhelming, and the University’s cautious moves are most likely an effort to avoid such a vehement reaction.

There is a difference between preserving Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and encouraging academic debate by allowing presentations that exhibit perspectives contrary to Church teachings. By allowing the Queer Film Festival, Notre Dame shows a commitment to both academic freedom and a more accepting social attitude. If the University truly opposed the event, it undoubtedly could have refused to permit it on campus. Permitting events like the Queer Film Festival shows the University’s willingness to explore social and gender issues in the pursuit of academic enlightenment. They also show that the University’s attitude is becoming more open in regard to alternative lifestyles, marking the first step toward actual, tangible progress.

Now that Notre Dame is more openly displaying this attitude, it should quicken its pace in implementing changes. Catholicism is the most identifying characteristic of the University, but that same religious commitment should be used to justify full inclusion. A main tenet of the Catholic faith is that all people are equal and love should be universal; the University should act on that tenet and include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. It should be commended for its recent allowances and exhibition of a more tolerant mindset, but the administration should build upon that mindset and turn to action by taking the major steps needed to secure full equality for all people on this campus.