A surprise move from the Student Activities Office allowed five students to attend a national gay rights demonstration in Washington D.C. Sunday, sophomore Jackie Emmanuel, president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), said.
The students were granted permission from the Office to use PSA funding to travel to the nation’s capital to participate in the National Equality March over the weekend, Emmanuel said.
“The fact that we were University-approved was surprising but it was a wonderful surprise,” she said. “The University hasn’t always been entirely receptive in the past.”
Sophomore Joanna Whitfield, a PSA officer and an attendee of the trip, said the support from the University was unexpected.
“They haven’t always been supportive of us in the past,” she said. “But we’re thrilled.”
Emmanuel said PSA originally had about 20 students signed up to drive to Washington D.C., but midterms week kept many on campus.
“It was a long drive and a long weekend right before midterms, which shows how important it was for everyone who attended,” Colleen King, one of the five participants, said.
King, a senior, said the group drove down Friday and had time Saturday to participate in some spontaneous rallies before Sunday’s March.
“There was such an exciting energy there,” she said. “I think a lot of people there had a real sense of frustration with how long the government is taking with these issues, but there was also a sense of celebration.”
She said her group hung out in the gay neighborhood of the city and stayed with friends to minimize costs.
“Everybody was so friendly,” she said. “This weekend gave me a real sense of empowerment.”
Emmanuel said the group marched for about two miles across the city and ended at Capitol Hill where politicians, activists and even musician Lady Gaga spoke to the crowd.
“We weren’t expecting the rally to be as large as it was,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Emmanuel said she believes the decision of the Student Activities Office to approve the trip is a step forward for Notre Dame.
“I feel like there is still a slight tone of homophobia from some areas on campus,” she said. “But I feel like the student body is generally supportive.”
In light of recent student letters to The Observer’s Viewpoint section debating gay rights on campus, Emmanuel said she is encouraged by the support in many of the letters.
But King — specifically referencing an Oct. 7 Letter to the Editor titled “Don’t ask, don’t tell” — said she is disturbed by the content in some letters.
“That first letter (‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’) really upset me,” she said. “As a Catholic, it bothers me when people interpret Catholicism in the way that the letter did.”
Whitfield said she thinks many students on campus are apathetic toward the gay rights movement.
“The attitudes are not especially supportive but not necessarily negative either,” she said. “I know people who are gay on campus and many say they are not comfortable and are not happy with the programs here.”
Describing herself as a “straight ally,” King said she believes gay rights is a social justice issue and should be addressed on campus.
“I think it’s hard to be gay at Notre Dame,” she said. “I wish there was more of a gay rights movement on campus.”