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Homosexual community deserves equality

Observer Editorial | Friday, March 19, 2004

They made their point. Now, will the University take action?Approximately 1,700 Notre Dame students and scattered faculty members joined together and wore blaze orange T-shirts Thursday that boldly stated “Gay? Fine by me.”Regardless of the individual decisions behind wearing the shirts, the collective message of support for homosexuals was unmistakable. The members of the Gay/Straight Alliance – also known as United in Diversity, an organization that was denied official University club status on March 4 – should be commended for their efforts to bring approximately 20 percent of the University together in a show of solidarity for a group whose place in the community has not always been clear. No administrative stance in recent Notre Dame history has elicited such overwhelming numbers to contest it. The alcohol policy changes couldn’t do it. Parietals couldn’t do it. But injustice towards Notre Dame’s homosexual community has.The avenues currently provided by Notre Dame emphasize individual counseling, which serves to only further classify homosexual students as outcasts in the community. Yes, the University appointed a Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs. Yes, the University provides homosexuals with Campus Ministry resources. But concerning both the official recognition of a student organization and the inclusion of homosexuality in the University’s legal non-discrimination clause, the answer has been a firm no.Now is the time for the administration to take notice of both of these issues, and deliver a long overdue yes.The Princeton Review’s recent distinction of Notre Dame as the most homophobic campus in the United States, therefore, seems to apply more to the administration that perpetuates this mentality on campus than to the actual students who try to curtail it and speak out against it.The show of support Thursday began to dispel this sense of homophobia, but both recognizing a gay student organization and expanding the nondiscrimination clause are necessary to extending acceptance on that essential group level. After turning down United in Diversity, Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman wrote that while he welcomes the opportunity to talk to students who proposed the club, he does “not want to create unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of a change in the decision about recognition.” Talk and good intentions will only take the University so far.Notre Dame aims to be the national leader among both Catholic and academic peer institutions. However, Boston College approved its first gay/straight alliance, Allies, on April 15. Duke University, the Princeton Review’s last campus before Notre Dame to hold the “alternative lifestyles are not an alternative” distinction, initiated the T-shirt campaign. In a dialogue critical to the Catholic Church and the intellectual climate of the future, Notre Dame is falling behind.The first step towards true progress lies in changing the non-discrimination clause. The Spirit of Inclusion statement that currently stands in its place walks a fine line – on the surface, it values gay and lesbian members of the community, but still reserves the legal right to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Board of Trustees voted down the expansion of the clause in 1997 and again in 1999 at a time when members of the community supported the expansion. Since then, Notre Dame’s homosexual and support community have advanced even further, with Thursday being evidence that this marginalized group is gaining followers – and that students do not accept blatant exclusion, perceived excuses or silent ignorance.Notre Dame’s Catholic identity has been cited as the crux of University policy towards homosexuals. While Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is central to its purpose, the University must also realize that it would not exist if it was not an academic institution first. And academic institutions at their foundation are open to free expression, intellectual growth and equality.The arguably successful Notre Dame Queer Film Festival occurred in part because several departments courageously supported it in the name of intellectual expression and academic freedom. As the Festival proved, discussion of homosexuality is not limited to Church teaching. Notre Dame’s administrative policies concerning it shouldn’t either.To further its Catholic purpose, Notre Dame aspires to promote peace, justice and reconciliation. But as long as it fails to promote acceptance, equality and recognition, the real ideals of Catholicism and intellectualism cannot be achieved. Gestures such as the Spirit of Inclusion statement reveal respectful intentions, but stop just short of a true justice and a true embrace.Thursday, a sea of orange reached out with open arms.The University should follow suit by accepting this diverse student group and giving them club status.