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SMC Straight and Gay Alliance holds panel

Anna Boarini | Friday, October 5, 2012

Saint Mary’s Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) held an ally panel Wednesday night to give students an opportunity to hear the stories of allies from the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities.

Saint Mary’s senior Francesca Gifford said being an ally means being open to different people and varying viewpoints.

“An ally is someone who recognizes the differences of people in the world and is open and accepting of those differences,” she said. “I realized I was an ally when I came to Saint Mary’s, because that was the first time I really experienced the hatred and stress [the] LGBTQ community undergoes just because of who they are.”

Catherine Pittman, a professor of psychology at the College, said her role as an ally started when her sister faced discrimination and ultimately lost her job as a teacher because of her sexual orientation.

“I got very upset because I was unable to do more and I decided to get involved the next time I heard something was going on at Saint Mary’s,” she said.

Pittman was involved with the movement when Saint Mary’s added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause in the mid 1990s.

“We started PINS, People In Support, and got the non-discrimination clause added,” Pittman said. “And we said why stop there, and decided to get sexual orientation and gender involved in the South Bend human rights [ordinance].”

After eight years of fighting, Pittman said she and others involved in South Bend Equality successfully added sexual orientation to the South Bend human rights ordinance.

Saint Mary’s senior Cristina Bueno, the president of SAGA, grew up in a very open family, but became a more active ally after watching friends get bullied, she said.

“When I went to high school and had more friends come out to me and watching them deal with being bullied, I wanted to stick up for them and other people too,” she said.

SAGA vice president Katie Carlisle said she never realized she was an ally because it just seemed second-nature to her.

“I remember a conversation with my dad when gay marriage became big in the political arena,” she said. “My dad asked why do these people need to get married and I always wondered, ‘Well, why not?'”

Two Notre Dame students, Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) co-presidents Alex Coccia and Lauren Morisseau, also participated in the panel.

Both are actively involved in the 4 to 5 movement, a student organization with the goals of getting allies involved, holding events to promote an open discussion on campus, getting a gay-straight alliance officially recognized and having the administration add sexual orientation added to the non-discrimination clause, Coccia said.

After deciding to go to Notre Dame, Coccia said he saw a gay rights protest mentioned in Scholastic Magazine.

“I started to look at Notre Dame policy … that the particular vision I had of Notre Dame and my Notre Dame family contrasted with the realities of students,” he said. “I guess I became an ally as a matter of principle, how [the University] would not protect their students.”

Morisseau said she became an ally when she unknowingly wandered into the founding meeting of her high school’s Straight Gay Alliance. Before coming to Notre Dame, Morisseau said she was shocked to find out Notre Dame did not have a recognized club.

“I didn’t understand how much being an ally was apart of my identity until I got to Notre Dame,” she said. “I didn’t fully adjust until I was part of PSA. I see [being an ally] as acknowledging that we all have a debt to each other as human beings.”

Along with discussing why they are allies, the members of the panel talked about how to become an ally or a better ally.

Pittman said it is important for allies to understand the inherent privileges straight people have.

“I think the kind of things straight people are interested in, seeing those relationships in books, movies, TV, they are out there,” she said. “It’s a big privilege.”

Allies are important for the LGBTQ community, especially when they come out to their families, Pittman said.

“Allies are so important because people’s families may reject them and it is especially hard to come out if they already know their families opinion [on homosexuality],” she said.

Carlisle said being a good ally is watching the language you use or the language your friends or family use.

“I think it’s all about making sure the environment you place yourself in is open and safe,” she said.