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Sheila Flynn | Thursday, February 19, 2004

Rick Friedman is not what you would call an imposing figure. Slight of stature, polite and soft-spoken, he’s another sweater-clad, reserved Notre Dame guy.But Friedman, unlike the majority of Notre Dame students, is openly gay. The fifth-year architecture and psychology student came out to friends and family when he was a freshman at the University. Since then, he has been active in OutreachND and various campus groups and committees dealing with gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.Just because he’s been involved, though, does not mean he has always been confident about his sexuality. In high school, Friedman never had a real romantic relationship with a girl nor did he date guys. He was, according to himself and his friends, “asexual.” Inwardly, however, he was questioning his orientation, and when a friend at Notre Dame came out, Friedman began to confront his own homosexuality during January and February of his freshman year.”He was telling me all about Outreach, how he joined Outreach about a month and a half before,” Friedman said of his friend. “I went to Outreach a couple of weeks later and met a bunch of people there – they were all really welcoming.”He told his friends and roommate he was gay several weeks later, and he also told his family – under rather unfavorable circumstances. Friedman hesitated in a phone conversation when his mother questioned him about his sexuality, and his parents subsequently drove to Notre Dame in the middle of the night from Crown Point, Ind.They arrived after parietals, and Friedman said his rector was “not very understanding at all.””I went down and explained to him sort of what had happened and explained to him they were coming and … we needed somewhere to talk,” Friedman said.His rector suggested they go outside or to LaFortune, but, Friedman said, the discussion he anticipated was “not one of those conversations you want to have outside Burger King.””He pretty much sent me away, told me he was too busy,” Friedman said.So Friedman walked with his parents around campus and the lakes, and they accepted his homosexuality reluctantly but fairly well.Most of all, though, Friedman’s fellow students were the ones who proved overwhelmingly accepting, he said.”It was pretty much a very welcoming thing,” Friedman said. “I never had any problems.”When he told his roommate, for example, Friedman said the situation was slightly awkward for about a day, but after that his roommate accepted the fact and moved on. When he told his two sophomore year roommates, Friedman said one was slightly more hesitant, but the other set the tone, saying, “You were our friend before, you’re our friend now; I agreed to room with you before, I’m rooming with you now.”And he has found that atmosphere of acceptance to be lasting and even increasing on campus. Since Friedman’s freshman year, he said OutreachND membership has largely decreased. He believes this is because fewer people are in need of its support structure now that other avenues, such as coffee hours sponsored by the Standing Committee for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Students, have been established.”The attitude on campus seemed to be that a lot of people seemed to be much more comfortable,” Friedman said of his senior year. “People didn’t seem to be having problems. … People were starting to come into Notre Dame being out. People started coming out younger just as a whole.”But Friedman maintains that multiple support structures, including those provided by OutreachND, are absolutely necessary. He cites his junior year, which he spent abroad in Rome and was the only gay student among the Notre Dame group. The separation from Outreach ND left him feeling isolated and detached. “I guess if you spent your time with all gay people, you’d eventually feel it, too,” Friedman said of heterosexuals.So he looked for a gay bar, discovered one, paced around outside for awhile and then sat down across the street.”I was scared to go in … people would look at me if they went in and out,” Friedman laughed. “But just being there – just walking down towards it – I could see gay people. And it just made me so much happier.”That experience made him more committed to providing support to other homosexual students on campus when he returned. He ran for the OutreachND board and got elected. It’s too easy, Friedman said, to move on once you have accepted your orientation and forget about the support structures that facilitated your adjustment.”If you do that,” Friedman said, “there’s no one left to help the next person.”