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PrismND to host second annual LGBT retreat

| Friday, March 27, 2015

LGBTGraphicWEBErin Rice | The Observer

This weekend, PrismND will host its second annual retreat — one it hopes will foster reflection and a feeling of fellowship within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at Notre Dame, PrismND spirituality commissioner Shannon Connolly said.

Connolly said the retreat looks to serve LGBT students whose spiritual needs may not be entirely met by what is provided on campus.

“There are not many venues on campus that are, understandably, willing to create a space that addresses LGBT student needs in terms of spirituality,” Connolly said. “ … And that’s understandable because that’s not serving the needs of the majority. That’s definitely not the majority here. So, there are conversations that happen on campus around the theology of [LGBT issues], which is great, there are a lot of fellowship opportunities in general and resources in general, but we feel really called to offer that space where orientation or gender identity isn’t going to come up as an issue.”

Sophomore and PrismND secretary Jennifer Cha said the club established the retreat to give LGBT students the chance to engage with the faith life “so integral to Notre Dame’s identity.”

“Spirituality and LGBTQ life are sometimes portrayed in opposition to each other, and we wanted to challenge that idea by creating a space where the two can be not only in conversation with but intimately connected to each other,” Cha said.

Connolly said she hopes the retreat, which will feature LGBT student speakers in addition to other basic retreat activities, will foster internal reflection.

“I’d like to think that [the retreat] will invite people to look at a process that they don’t have time to look at,” Connolly said. “Journeying with your orientation or your gender identity is something that’s very difficult, and it’s part of who you are. … Not only is [the retreat] an invitation to take that time [to explore that], it’s an invitation to be with people who understand it, to be in a place where you can reach out to people.”

Campus response to the retreat has been mixed, Connolly said.

“Notre Dame itself, the administration, has been incredibly supportive,” she said. “Campus ministry, rectors, there are too many people to name who have been supportive. The student body has mixed reviews a lot of the time. It’s hilarious how many people think we’re actually trying to ‘pray the gay away.’ Some people I don’t think understand how this is kosher, but we definitely do keep it in line with Catholic teaching.”

The question of PrismND’s involvement with student allies is one that has come up during the planning of the retreat, which is open to all students regardless of sexual orientation, Connolly said.

“The question of how much room do we make for allies is a big one,” she said. “Is [PrismND] an organization that serves as an ambassador from the community to allies, trying to say ‘this is what we’re about, welcome?’ Or is it more of an inward-facing organization, as a space for [LGBT] to communicate? Ideally both. And the retreat is one of the most inward-facing places we have. I think last year we had one or two allies, and they were people who had already been deeply involved in the LBGT community …

“So this is not necessarily something that I would encourage allies to go on as their first foray into being better allies. Because I think it would just be a lot. This is a really personal and intimate retreat. I think the experience of the allies we had come last year was positive, and I think they already understood a lot about what it means to be LGBT. So if someone didn’t understand that, it would be kind of difficult.”

But overall, the retreat’s focus on LGBT issues will be less alien to allies than they might think, Connolly said.

“I’d say the LGBT ‘lens’ doesn’t change things as much as people would think it does,” she said. “So, while all of our speakers are speaking on LGBT issues, coming from an LGBT perspective, there are other activities that don’t have any orientation. … I think a lot of the time, you think you’re coming from an LGBT perspective, and you are, but an LGBT perspective includes the same questions anyone else is going through. Am I doing the right thing? Am I hurting the people I love? How do I forgive myself for who and what I’ve been? How do other people forgive me? How do people see me? It’s all the same questions.”

The PrismND retreat will take place Friday and Saturday.

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