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A moral outrage

Alex Coccia | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Institutions have the ability to create rhetoric in order to frame certain issues. They use this to justify certain actions (or inactions) and they repeat the rhetoric enough that it begins to seem reasonable. But once there is resistance to such rhetoric, the holes become more apparent.

So, we need to change the framework for the discussion of a gay-straight alliance and an inclusive nondiscrimination clause. We need to change the rhetoric.

It is partially our fault, that of those who advocate strongly for these changes. We have tried to convince the administration that recognizing a gay-straight alliance and adding “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause are the right things to do because we are the only top-20 University that has failed to do so; because Public Religion Institute statistics show that Catholics are more supportive of gay rights than members of any other Christian denomination; because our sister school, Saint Mary’s, has both; because there is overwhelming support from students, faculty and staff for these changes; because the possibility of discrimination creates a culture of fear in students, faculty and staff; and because soon enough we will be the alumni/ae who decide whether or not to support the University.

What we hardly ever publicly argue is that these changes are the right things to do, no qualifications.

Whether the administration claims that it is for religious reasons, as it did in its 1995 open letter rejection of GLND/SMC; for legal reasons, as it did in its 1997 open letter following the Spirit of Inclusion; or for unstated financial reasons, the administration’s steadfast refusal to recognize a gay-straight alliance and to include “sexual orientation” in its nondiscrimination clause is a moral outrage. Enough is not being done to live up to “the social teachings of the Catholic Church [which] promote a society founded on justice and love, in which all persons possess inherent dignity as children of God.”

It is an offence to Notre Dame’s high moral standard to refuse official club status to a gay-straight alliance because of the administration’s perception that it is doing enough — an offence because there is clear evidence of prejudice and homophobia on campus, including hateful slurs such as “faggot,” derogatory football chants and a comic insinuating homophobic violence. The University consistently ranks in the top six on the Princeton Review’s Top 20 LGBT-Unfriendly Colleges and Universities list. The administration’s perception of the Notre Dame environment contrasts sharply with the reality that gay students and allies experience. Year after year, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students, faculty, staff and their straight allies have repeatedly made it known that enough is not being done.

It is immoral for any university to reserve the right, by exclusion from official policy, to discriminate against a person because of his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation. The administration claims in the Spirit of Inclusion that “we consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

Despite the beautiful language steeped in multiple references to Christ, such as “at Notre Dame, Christ is the law by which all other laws are to be judged,” the administration’s refusal to include “sexual orientation” in the non-discrimination clause diminishes any genuine attempt by the University at inclusion.

Meaningful legal protection for people based on sexual orientation is lost in the morass of legal technicalities: “Institutional nondiscriminating clauses are highly stylized statements which are legally binding. Neither federal nor state law mandates that sexual orientation be included in nondiscrimination clauses.” By avoiding legal responsibility, our administration is avoiding its moral responsibility to Christ and to Notre Dame. GLBTQ members of the Notre Dame community are not legal technicalities who can be told in one breath that they are cherished as family, and in another that they are not worthy of legal protection.

The high standard to which the administration holds the entire Notre Dame community (including itself), the Spirit of Inclusion, must actually be practiced. If the administration truly believed its own spirit of inclusion, University policy would reflect it. Once again, the administration has the opportunity to make the commitment to its gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students, faculty and staff that would show its unconditional love for all children of God. These changes of course would not be the end of efforts for inclusion at Notre Dame. Until they are made, however, we can legitimately be skeptical of the administration’s commitment to discouraging homophobia, prejudice and discrimination.

It is a moral outrage the way Notre Dame’s current policies stand. But, to those at Notre Dame who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning: Allies are joining their voices with yours in support. The 4 to 5 Movement is doing all it can to create a culture of inclusion at Notre Dame. The administration must at the very least match that level of commitment. The struggle for true inclusion will not go away, and until the administration joins fully in the struggle, we must continue to stress the language that accurately reflects Notre Dame’s current policies.

Alex Coccia is a sophomore. He can be contacted at acoccia@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.