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Panel discusses GLBT issues at ND

SARAH MERVOSH | Friday, January 29, 2010

When Saint Mary’s junior Laurel Javors saw a comic implying violence towards the gay community in the Jan. 13 edition of The Observer, she thought of a friend.

“I was in Florence last year, watching my friend Jeff wheeled away in a stretcher,” Javors said. “He was beaten to the point where he lost sight in his eye because we was holding his boyfriend’s hand.

“These are the realities we face,” Javors, a member of Saint Mary’s Gay and Straight Alliance, said in a panel Thursday evening.

In response to The Observer comic, student government hosted “Where To Go From Here?: Moving Beyond Fruits  and Vegetables,” and discussed how the Notre Dame community can create a more inclusive atmosphere, especially for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students.

Five panelists spoke about their reaction to the comic and offered suggestions for how the Notre Dame community can make progress in the achieving a “Spirit of Inclusion,” referring to the University’s 1997 formal statement.

Dan Myers, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said The Observer comic should be used as an opportunity for progress.

“When something happens like this, like this cartoon being published, it’s natural and it’s very easy to get focused on the specific individuals who are involved,” Myers said. “That’s not where I want to focus.”

Myers said it is more important to focus on changing the culture at Notre Dame, and he called upon students and faculty to hold themselves accountable.

“When you first came to Notre Dame, you might have wondered how people were going to behave with respect to these issues,” he said. “The first time someone made one of these offensive jokes, I bet there was kind of an awkward pause while people figured out whether it as okay to laugh.

“Those are the moments that define our culture,” Myers said.

“I’m asking you … to challenge yourself to step up and be someone who helps change this culture,” he said. “I know it’s intimidating as hell to do that stuff. I don’t blame people to being scared to do it. I’m scared to do it, but you can do it.”

Senior Patrick Bears, a member of Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, called upon both students and faculty to make a change.

“I don’t go a week without hearing something odious described as gay or without someone calling someone else a [derogatory term] when they do something they don’t like,” he said.

But it’s about more than simply changing the type of language used, Bears said.

“It’s not just us to stop using ‘gay’ […] What I want us to do is to become better students and better teachers,” he said. “I would like to see more students interested in queer material and I want to see more teachers offer queer material in their syllabi.”

Javors said the Notre Dame community should move forward by engaging mature discussions about sexuality as a way of life.

“God created my sexuality, regardless of what any religious teaching otherwise said. That is what I hold to be true,” she said. “I feel like the more people get to know their peers, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, they will see that exact same thing.

“Sexuality isn’t what someone does in bed, but it’s what they live out to the world everyday,” Javors said. “I challenge both the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame’s campuses to really engage in a mature and intellectual way and not just hide behind the teachings of [the Bible.]”

Myers use his 13-year-old son as an example of what it takes for individuals to help change the culture. He said he heard his son on the phone with a friend defending homosexuality.

“You can hardly imagine a more socially intimidating place in life than junior high. [But my son said,] ‘Dude, you are being so homophobic right now. You can’t just call people ‘gay’ as a put down,'” Myers said.

“And then he said, ‘Seriously I’m going to hang up on you if you don’t stop being so homophobic,'” he said. “Saying, ‘Dude that is so not cool.’ That, I’m telling you, is a hell of a weapon.

“Now if he can do it, you can do it. I can do it. We all can,” Myers said.

Other panelists included Sr. Sue Dunn, co-president of the Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, and Maureen Lafferty, University Counseling Center counselor and psychologist and member of the Core Council.