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LGBTQ students discuss life on campus

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Like many students, senior Melanie LeMay decided to attend Notre Dame for an elite education, to strengthen her faith and because it was a place where she felt at home.
“My story about coming to Notre Dame is pretty much like any other Notre Dame student’s,” LeMay said.

Two months into her freshman year, however, LeMay said she discovered she was gay and suddenly felt isolated at the University she previously called home.

“It felt right, it felt real. But at the same time, it was devastatingly scary,” she said. “I felt alone and isolated and unwelcome, like I couldn’t tell anyone.”

For months, LeMay refrained from coming out to her friends, and even dated a male as she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality.

“After I knew I was gay, I tried to be straight. I was worried about the ramifications of my faith life,” she said. “I cared about him a lot, but I didn’t have romantic feelings for him. We broke up in April and that is what sealed the fact that I was gay.”

By April of her freshman year, she said she had come out to her friends with positive results and had been welcomed into the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community on campus.

“For the first time, I felt like I was coming home to Notre Dame again like I had when I first got there as a freshman,” she said. “I could be myself and be comfortable here and flourish here, and there are people who would love me and accept me for who I am.”

However, that is not to say that being gay at Notre Dame is easy.

In response to T-shirts that said ‘Gay? Fine by me,’ some students made T-shirts that said ‘Gay? Go to hell,’ LeMay said.

“If I had been a closeted student seeing a student wearing a shirt like that, it would have just pushed me further into the closet,” she said.

Senior Patrick Bears, an openly gay male, said he knows of many students who had the word ‘fag’ written on the bulletin boards outside their dorm rooms.

But Bears said it is more common for students to act uncomfortable, rather than hateful, around gay students.

“When I was living in Stanford, I was pretty much the gay kid on the first floor. Some of the kids would just give me weird looks when I walked by,” Bears said. “They looked as if I was terrifying, as if I had giant talons for hands.”

Senior Eddie Velazquez, who knew he was gay when he decided to attend the University, said subtle looks or comments take a toll on students who are not completely comfortable with their sexuality.

“It’s the equivalent of throwing a tiny pebble at somebody. If each comment is one pebble, you think it’s just one pebble, it’s not going to hurt,” he said. “Over the course of a semester, they add up to 1,000 pebbles. Suddenly, the burden is a lot heavier.”

Bears attributed students’ behavior to ignorance rather than outright discrimination.
“They don’t really have any experience,” he said. “It’s more or less a fear that comes out of ignorance.”

Bears said students could become more educated simply by asking questions.
“For most any gay person, if you have any questions, feel free to ask us about them,” he said. “A lot of us are more than willing to talk.”

Another way students can help facilitate an accepting environment for the LGBTQ community is to lead by example, Valezquez said.

“When you act in a positive manner and when you show willingness to accept, good vibes are contagious,” he said.

One particular challenge for gay students is finding and connecting with other gay students because currently no official student club exists for the LGBTQ community, Velazquez said.
“One of the concerns for gay students who do enter into our student body is that they may not necessarily find gay students to find interests with and to talk to,” Velazquez said. “Until they do find a good group of friends, it’s difficult for students to be able to relate to their peers.”

Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, an advisory group to the Vice President of Student Affairs, has meetings that attract a regular group of 15 to 20 students. However, many more LGBTQ students attend the University, Velazquez said.

Despite having a smaller pool to choose from, LeMay said dating definitely occurs.
“I was in a long-term relationship with another Notre Dame student my sophomore and junior year, so it is possible to date here,” she said. “I know that we interact a lot with the Saint Mary’s gay community as well, which helps the girls.”

Velazquez said the dating patterns among the LGBTQ community at Notre Dame are quite similar to those of heterosexual students at Notre Dame.

“They are gay students, but they are still Notre Dame students. So they still fall into the same range,” he said. “I know people who have been in the same relationship for three years and then other people who just do not take interest.”

The students said Notre Dame, which is repeatedly ranked high on Princeton Review’s list of ‘Alternative lifestyles not an alternative,’ was more accepting than its reputation may imply.

“There is this kind of idea that Notre Dame is a terrible place for you to be gay. It may be worse than other schools, but it’s better than a lot of schools,” Bears said.

Though LeMay said she probably would not have come to Notre Dame if she had known she was gay, she has no regrets.

“I’ve had a happy four years here, three of which I was out,” LeMay said. “I would not change my experience for anything.”