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Alumni urge University to condemn Ugandan bill

Mel Flanagan | Thursday, November 29, 2012

A group of Notre Dame graduates are promoting a petition encouraging the University to officially condemn a proposed anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.

The proposed law, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, would increase penalties against LGBT individuals in the country, as well as against others who attempt to hide or protect these individuals.

As a matter of University policy, Notre Dame usually does not make public statements about specific social issues such as this one.

Katie Dunn, class of 2009 and a Uganda study abroad participant, began circulating the petition after the Uganda CSO Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and Frank Mugisha, leader of Sexual Minorities in Uganda, requested she urge Notre Dame to publicly denounce the bill.

“[Mugisha] has spoken on campus about this issue. He asked me to ensure that Notre Dame make a public statement against the bill,” Dunn said. “Notre Dame has a reputation for being conservative on this issue, and because of that, it has a powerful voice to the Catholics in Uganda. Right now its silence is very loud.”

Penalties of the bill include life imprisonment or the death penalty for accused homosexuals, and heavy fines or prison time for parents, teachers and landlords of LGBT individuals who do not report them. Dunn said the bill could be voted on within the next few days.

As a school that has a deep relationship with Uganda, Dunn said the University possesses countless reasons to fight the bill.

“Notre Dame’s strategic plan, ‘Fulfilling the Promise,’ commits itself to increasing its internationalism,” Dunn said. “Notre Dame recognizes that institutions cannot use a country for its educational purposes and then not take responsibility for their role in that country. This is the University’s mission.”

Eleanor Huntington, a graduate of the class of 2010 who has also studied abroad and done research in Uganda, is working to promote the petition.

Huntington said she fears not only for the people she has met in Uganda whom the bill would affect, but also for current and future Notre Dame students.

“What becomes Notre Dame’s rule if they know a professor is gay and he’s doing research in Uganda?” Huntington said. “Or if they have students who want to study abroad or do research or service in Uganda? Are they going to have to find out the sexual orientation of the student?”

While it would not be helpful for other nations to simply judge or condemn Uganda, Huntington said Notre Dame possesses extensive knowledge of the country’s institutions that would be useful in finding solutions for the bill.

“People in Uganda do have strong faith, and they would respond to Notre Dame’s actions,” she said. “There are enough good perspective administrators at Notre Dame that they would know how to effectively address the issue without embarrassing or causing judgment or scandal.”

2009 graduate Katie Day, who also studied abroad and conducted research in Uganda as a student, agreed Notre Dame’s Catholic identity should motivate the University to address the proposed bill.

Day said she is completely mystified by Catholic bishops in Uganda’s praise for the bill, given that it contradicts the Church’s mandate to “uphold the human dignity of every single person.”

“As the universal Church, Catholic leaders elsewhere in the world need to let the Ugandan Catholic Church know this bill is completely contradictory to our faith’s core beliefs,” she said. “I cannot think of anything more dehumanizing and degrading than this bill.”

Dunn said she has received numerous positive responses to the petition from Notre Dame faculty and staff praising her and her teammates for their work.

She has also received brief e-mails from University President Fr. John Jenkins and Dr. J. Nicholas Entrikin, vice president and associate provost for internationalization.

“I hope Fr. Jenkins and Dr. Entrikin listen to their faculty on this one,” Dunn said.

The University has a responsibility, both as a Catholic institution and a partner with Uganda, to provide guidance to the country and discourage this bill, Day said.

Day said Notre Dame’s mission statement pledges that the University looks to nurture in its students, “a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”

“As the students and alumni of Notre Dame stand up to the injustice of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we are fulfilling this part of Notre Dame’s mission,” Day said.