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Video inspires solidarity

Sam Stryker | Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Feb. 28, the 4 to 5 Movement, a student group pushing for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) rights at Notre Dame released the “It Needs to Get Better” video in the midst of a push for the University to officially recognize a gay-straight alliance and include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause.

But the support for LGBTQ inclusion at Notre Dame is not limited to the University’s campus, sophomore Alex Coccia, a leader of the 4 to 5 Movement, said. (Editor’s Note: Coccia is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer.)

Within 24 hours of the video’s release, members of Loyola University of Chicago’s student government had contacted him about a display of solidarity, and on March 20, Loyola Chicago’s Unified Student Government Association (USGA) passed the “It Needs to Get Better” Act, a demonstration of support for the 4 to 5 Movement and the LGBTQ community at Notre Dame.

According to the act, the USGA stands “now and forever in solidarity” with the LGBTQ community at Notre Dame in support of an inclusive non-discrimination clause and the formation of a University-recognized gay-straight alliance.

The act finds the Notre Dame administration would be “flouting the reigning moral culture of our day and our shared Catholic heritage” if it were to not allow for such changes.

Russell Gonzalez, senior senator and chair of the Constitutional Review Board at Loyola Chicago, said the group passed the act to show a school with a similar faith-based mission to Notre Dame has been able to successfully integrate a gay-straight alliance and an inclusive non-discrimination clause.

“We hope that the administration of [Notre Dame] takes notice that other Catholic universities have achieved a balance between faith and student experience such that no one needs to feel excluded,” he said.

A Jesuit Catholic university, Loyola Chicago has both an inclusive non-discrimination clause and an officially sanctioned LGBTQ student organization. Gonzalez said student government was inspired to pass their “It Needs to Get Better” Act by Church teachings.

“[The] Church has stated very explicitly in many arenas that all instances of unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people should be removed and avoided,” he said. “The exclusion from the official [Notre Dame] non-discrimination statement and from the constellation of student [organizations] is one such instance.”

The student senate at Loyola Chicago was “practically unanimous” in passing the act, Gonzalez said, despite Notre Dame’s autonomy and the perception that such an act would have little impact on their campus.

“This was not about institutional identity or even institution-specific issues,” he said. “Recognition, validation and accommodation of our fellow man is a fundamentally human endeavor that no university has the right to undermine.”

The “It Needs to Get Better” video was originally conceived to garner support for the change the 4 to 5 Movement sought, Coccia said. He said the group used social media to reach beyond the “Notre Dame ‘bubble’” for several important reasons.

“The movement at Notre Dame is not unique,” he said. “There are students across the country at various universities that understand the necessity and are struggling for their universities to protect the fundamental dignity of all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation.”

Coccia said the group also recognized the role it could play in pushing for LGBTQ inclusion at other schools across the country.

“Because students at other universities are struggling for the same things that we are working towards, we hoped that the video and that the 4 to 5 Movement could provide a foundation for students to really increase the pressure on their campuses,” he said.

By utilizing social media, Coccia said the group also hoped to garner support from faith-based institutions with inclusive non-discrimination clauses and LGBTQ-ally themed groups.

“As we stated in the video, our religious character does not preclude these changes,” he said. “We believe that it in fact enhances the reasons for which such protections and safety and community-building measures should exist.”

Coccia said the support from Loyola Chicago is invaluable to the group’s efforts on Notre Dame’s campus.

“It acts as a spark that enhances our motivation for working for these changes and a more welcoming community at Notre Dame,” he said.

The support displayed for the 4 to 5 Movement at other universities is a display of collective human values, Coccia said. Many times, this sentiment is grounded in faith.

“Deep underneath the loyalties that we have to our various universities, we are connected by a common human sentiment that we cannot stand voiceless in the face of hurtful prejudice and policies that create unwelcoming environments for those who identify as (LGBTQ),” Coccia said.

The significance of such an act being passed on another campus goes beyond the 4 to 5 Movement connecting with another university, Coccia said. Now, he says a new tone has been set for the group at Notre Dame.

“No longer is it just Notre Dame students, faculty, staff and alumni appealing to the University to make the right changes,” Coccia said. “As it says in the act, Loyola Chicago has made a firm statement from the entire student body to stand in solidarity with us.”