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Happy belated Coming Out Day

Lance Gallop | Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The sun is coming up as I write this, and old questions have started bothering me again. Mornings often do this to me, and all I can think about is honor and duty, compassion and love, how silly my job is – how silly to believe that writing can accomplish anything – and how I’ll try anyway.

In case you missed the bright purple invitation, Monday was National Coming Out Day. Did anyone come out to you? If you’re lucky, the answer is yes, and you can revel in the fact that you have a friend or a family member (maybe even a daughter or a son) who trusts you unerringly and wants to share with you a piece of her soul. And in case you are still unsure how to react, try this: be happy for her. If you want extra friendship points, throw her a party.

Or maybe you were the one who came out (or, at least, who wanted to). If so, I wish you the best and I thank you. I’ve covered this ground before, but I cannot say it too many times: coming out is incredibly important for you, for your friends and for the entire Notre Dame community.

There is a message behind all of this, of course, but the message is not about tolerance, as you may think. Tolerance is self-righteous, and an implicit judgment of inferiority stands at the root of the word. This message is about acceptance, which requires humility and a certain peace of heart.

Acceptance is something at which people at Notre Dame are terrible. In fact, when you get right down to it, they are even terrible at tolerance. But it is also an issue whose time has come, and which, in the coming weeks, months and years, you will be forced to face. Right now the issue is framed around the question of accepting gays and lesbians. Tomorrow it will be someone else, but the underlying problem is universal.

People do not understand gays and lesbians, where we come from and why we make the choices that we do. They especially do not understand gay social activism, and they prance about words like “gay agenda,” which do not mean very much but which sound good when you are rallying against someone. I hope that you can see that there is no such thing as a gay agenda, or rather that there is, and it’s precisely what you would expect if you took a “human agenda” and made its holder gay. The lack of understanding isn’t the whole of the problem, but it is a beginning.

The first thing that people forget is there is really no difference between someone who is gay and someone who is straight, other than sexual orientation (and the fact that experience has often made the gay person very accepting of others). The motivations, thoughts, desire, needs and concerns are human, and exactly like yours.

What would you think and feel if you woke up tomorrow morning and found out that you were gay (or straight as the case may be)? Would the person within you change? Would you suddenly find it impossible to accept yourself, would it become evil for you to say to God “thank you for everything that I am”? Would it be a crime for you to want to know and be yourself as you are?

I hope you realize that the answer is no, because this is the root of everything that I will ever say on this topic: being gay is not a lifestyle, it is a person; being gay is not a choice, it is a commitment to oneself. Understand this, and you will understand everything that follows.

Now, in the interest of promoting acceptance here at Notre Dame, of gays and lesbians in particular, but really of everyone, I am going to ask a few things of you. Respond to this article, discuss it and think about it, and think about and discuss the whole issue in general with your friends, your classmates, your confessor and your parents. Discussion is powerful, and it provokes understanding, and understanding is the gatekeeper of acceptance.

Also, carry yourself with dignity and compassion. You, and you alone, have the ability to change hearts, to wound people with casual cruelty, to break souls and to mend them and to remake the world. Think before you act and speak, try acceptance on for size and let compassion guide your every move. That is one kind of greatness, and this will be the beginning, for you and for me.

The sun is all the way up now, and my writing is done. You will determine what this day becomes. Please do not forget.

Lance Gallop is a senior computer science, philosophy, and theology major.

This article is the first in the “Calamus Trio” (after a collection of poems by Walt Whitman). The next column will take a hard look at Catholic teachings and beliefs, and the third will deal with social issues. He welcomes all discussions and can be reached at lgallop@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.