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Protesters deliver letter, ask for policy change

John Tierney | Thursday, January 28, 2010

Demonstrators attempted to deliver a letter addressed to University President Fr. John Jenkins demanding that sexual orientation be included in Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause to Main Building Wednesday.

The letter was accepted by an administrative assistant from Jenkins’s office after student organizers of the “No Home Under the Dome” demonstration and faculty participants were denied access to the building by a Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) officer.

The letter, part of an initiative to add sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination clause and formally support a gay-straight alliance on campus, asked that the University “move beyond words and into concrete actions which fully bring [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and ally students] into equality at Notre Dame.”

The protest organized at the corner of Angela Blvd. and Notre Dame Ave.

Over 200 participants walked up Notre Dame Ave. to Main Building, where student organizers attempted to present the letter to Jenkins. After the students were denied entry to Main Building, about 40 faculty members requested entry to the building, but they were not admitted.

The NDSP officer told the faculty members that a representative from the Office of the President would accept the petition on Jenkins’ behalf.

The letter said that Notre Dame has made “incredible progress” toward being inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and ally students, but that these students are not treated with full equality.

“We have no legal protection at Notre Dame as lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons,” the letter said. “We are asking for the same protection from discrimination that every other minority group has on this campus.”

Protestors hoped to “send a message to the University that gay students and their allies don’t feel the current practices of the University are serving their needs,” student organizer Patrick Bears said.

Participants in the protest wore white T-shirts and covered their mouths with a strip of purple tape. The tape represented “the silence of people on campus about this issue,” according to Melanie LeMay, a student organizer of the protest.

The protest’s organizers stressed that protecting lesbian, gay, and bisexual students is in accord with Catholic Social Teaching.

The letter cites Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the Gospel of Matthew and the Catechism in support of “[pursuing] full justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual students and allies.”

By not supporting a gay-straight alliance, the University makes lesbian, gay, and bisexual students “feel like they’re not part of the family,” according to organizer Meaghan Jennings.
Jennings cited the presence of gay-straight alliances at other Catholic colleges and universities as evidence that Notre Dame would not be breaking with the Church by supporting an alliance.

Saint Mary’s College sanctions an official Gay-Straight Alliance, and includes sexual orientation in its own non-discrimination policy.

“Based on our Catholic values, the College also commits to avoiding discrimination based on sexual or political orientation,” according to the policy.

The University issued a statement Wednesday afternoon defending its current non-discrimination policy and the “Spirit of Inclusion,” which represents the University’s “commitment to an inclusive community.”

According to the statement, Notre Dame’s “Spirit of Inclusion” “was adopted based on the conclusion that we are unwilling to leave civil courts the interpretation of University decisions that are made on the basis of Church teaching on sexual orientation and conduct.”

The letter to Jenkins praised the “Spirit of Inclusion,” but said “there is still work to be done.”

Jill Godmilow, a professor of Film, Television, and Theatre, and a member of the Notre Dame Progressive Faculty and Staff Association, said that adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause is an “issue of equality.”

She called homophobia among students “embarrassing,” and said that it makes it more difficult for the University to attract top-tier faculty and graduate students.

“I haven’t seen evidence of [homophobia] in faculty and staff,” Godmilow said. “It operates on the level of the students.”

Bears said that he does not know whether the University discriminates based on sexual orientation.

 “I would like to believe that it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that gay students and their allies don’t want” to change the non-discrimination policy, he said.

The current policy “categorizes us as a different group,” he said.

The organizers of the protest will now concentrate their efforts on recruiting people to sign the online petition supporting adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause, Bears said.