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Lecture examines gay life on campus

Katie Peralta | Wednesday, April 14, 2010

As a part of Notre Dame’s StaND Against Hate Week, student government hosted a talk titled “Homosexuality Under the Dome: Past Struggles and Present Solutions” Tuesday night at the Carey Auditorium at the Hesburgh Library.

Notre Dame alumni and student members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) community opened the discussion with personal testimonies about their experience with discrimination at Notre Dame and their suggestions as to how to improve an environment of inclusion on campus.

All five speakers reverberated the same theme in their solutions: amending the University’s nondiscrimination clause to include sexual orientation.

Tom Field, a 1954 graduate of the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and former student body president, began the talk with a series of questions invoking the power of the Holy Spirit.

“How can we tell when the Holy Spirit speaks to us?” Field said. “When the Holy Spirit speaks to us, he will call us to greater personal integrity. For gay and lesbian individuals, that means recognizing that God made no mistakes.”

Field said honesty is a critical element in the understanding process for the gay community.
“We have to be honest with ourselves about who we are,” he said. “And therefore we have to be honest with others about who we are.”

Field said his experience as a gay man at Notre Dame was not an easy one.

“Violence at Notre Dame warped and changed my life profoundly. It was an internal violence,” he said. “I was totally closeted here and nothing in my environment provided a path to self-awareness and personal integrity.”

Social structure, he said, is largely to blame for students remaining closeted.

“Universities must be open to learning no matter where it can be found,” he said. “Our beloved University must reclaim its place as a leader in compassion.”

Discrimination, furthermore, is inherently against Catholic teaching, Field said, urging the University to adopt a non-discrimination clause.

“Notre Dame’s failure to not include the nondiscrimination clause is in itself discrimination,” he said. “Notre Dame’s act of discrimination allows others to feel it acceptable to treat the LGBTQ community as less than equal.”

“One discrimination begets another,” he added.

Rick Duffer Landavazo, a 1981 graduate who majored in American Studies spoke next about his experience as a gay student at Notre Dame nearly 30 years ago, recounting several instances of overt acts of aggression and hate from his fellow students.

“If gay and lesbian students today are like those in the 1970s, you are in a community that preaches love and practices hate,” he said.

Landavazo said dialogue is a critical part of inclusion for the LGBTQ community.

“I urge the University to bring gay and lesbian students to bring their concerns into the open,” he said. “Homosexuals are probably the most disdained minority group.”

Dialogue, he said, could also have prevented many of today’s problems among the gay and lesbian community.

“Could not an open dialogue among priests have avoided the sex abuse scandal in the Church?” he asked.

He also described a “survival guide” for the gay student community.

“Embrace ‘Cafeteria Catholicism.’ Everyone else has,” he said.

Richard Beatty, a 1991 graduate student and former member of the Glee Club, said he came to the University after a “very comfortable life” as a gay man in California.

Besides the lack of administrative recognition of LGBTQ groups on campus, Beatty said he did not experience discrimination from Notre Dame students, faculty and staff.

“I do sense a certain progress on campus,” he said.

Beatty reiterated the importance of adding sexual orientation to the University’s nondiscrimination clause, emphasizing the difference between a gay person and gay actions.

“There is a clear distinction between being and doing,” he said.

Co-chairs of the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students Melanie LeMay and Eddie Velazquez, both seniors, recounted their experiences as undergraduates at Notre Dame so far.

“Last year the ‘Gay? Go to hell’ T-shirts were never reprimanded in any way by the administration,” LeMay said, referencing the “Gay? Fine by me” T-shirts worn by many students as a protest last semester.

But the environment for the Notre Dame LGBTQ community has improved, she said.
“Most of the change has been from students and faculty,” she said.

Velazquez said his impression of the Notre Dame community was better than he had anticipated before coming on campus.

“The ND students are actually opposite to how they were portrayed in the media,” he said, referencing a Princeton Review article that pinned Notre Dame as the top most unwelcoming students for “alternative lifestyles.”

The last speaker of the event was Dominic Parrott, assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, who addressed the psychology behind people who discriminate against others based on their sexual orientation.

 “For every big act of aggression like murder, there are more and more smaller ones that go unreported and uncounted,” he said.

Thirty-five states are not legally required to count hate attacks against gay people, he said. Furthermore, an estimated 20 percent of sexual minority adults were victims of a person or property crime due to their sexual orientation and 50 percent of sexual minority adults have been verbally insulted or abused.

“The true prevalence of the problem is underestimated,” he said.

Parrott noted several causes of aggression against gay people, focusing especially on men, who constitute 75 to 80 percent of acts of aggression.

Gender role reinforcement, he said, is a factor because society prescribes certain norms for how men and women behave.

Not showing emotion, being sexually active and anti-femininity are all characteristics society pins on men, he said.

“Male homosexuality represents a threat to the masculinity of some heterosexual men,” he said. “Men feel they have to establish gender bounds.”

The solution to this over-aggression, he said, ought to come from both societal and individual levels.

“Any change in societal level must be supported by education, legislation, social policies and social and cultural messages,” he said. “[On an individual level], intergroup contact will reduce sexual prejudice if there is equal status between groups and a norm exists that supports positive relations and cooperative interaction.”

He said society must continue to understand and refine its understanding of sources of aggression in order to create a safe and welcome environment for all people, no matter what their sexual orientation.