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Orange dots ND campus

Sarah Wheaton | Thursday, September 29, 2005

The color orange will speckle Notre Dame’s campus once again today as students and faculty show their support for alternative lifestyles by wearing “Gay? Fine By Me” shirts provided by members of AllianceND.

The student group, which has not been formally recognized by the University, focuses on issues of sexuality and tolerance. Members said they distributed about 250 new T-shirts in preparation for today’s event, which is co-sponsored by the sociology department. An estimated 2,500 shirts have been distributed to members of the Notre Dame community since the inception of the campaign in spring 2004.

Graduate student and group co-coordinator Anna Gomberg said she believes demand for the shirts has not waned.

“A lot of faculty and staff wanted the shirt this time around,” she said.

AllianceND said in a press release that “wearing the shirt indicates support and acceptance of Notre Dame’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (GLBTQ) community and its allies.”

“The main purpose of these events is continuing campus dialogue on GLBTQ issues,” it said.

“It’s important for students to know that this is a safe place and that there are certain people that it is safe to talk to about these issues,” Gomberg said. “The T-shirt days show our support for these individuals in a highly visible way and shows that there are allies for them here, and if that is the only thing that comes of it, that’s fine with me.”

Because AllianceND is not formally recognized as a club by Notre Dame, group members must think of creative ways to advertise and run their events. Sophomore Alexander Renfro, who serves as director of communications for AllianceND, said the group relies heavily on its Web site, e-mail lists and word of mouth to advertise events like the T-shirt days.

The shirts usually get a mixed reaction from the student body. Sophomore Josh Kempf and junior Meredith Wholley said they will not be wearing the shirt today.

“I think the Catholic nature of ND doesn’t support that, and I don’t see it as a lifestyle I agree with,” Kempf said.

“I think the shirts have an ambiguous message,” Wholley said. “There is a difference between loving someone for who they are and accepting actions that are sinful.”

Renfro said he will be wearing the shirt to show his support for the GLBTQ community.

“Diversity is a huge issue at Notre Dame, and we are simply representing the level that deals with sexuality,” he said. “You have to start with awareness to bring tolerance.”

Junior Laura Vilim said she will also be wearing the shirt.

“I wish it had a stronger sentiment – it’s not just fine by me, it’s completely acceptable by me,” she said.

Senior Peter Quaranto, a staunch shirt supporter, said he believes it helps send a positive message.

“I think the shirt campaign is extremely effective because often people view hospitality for homosexual people as a taboo, and I think the mass numbers of people wearing shirts sends forth a symbol of hope,” he said. “My hope is that [University President] Father [John] Jenkins will use this as an opportunity to show that he cares for the voices of students and that he is committed to an environment welcoming for all.”

While some students may not be receptive to the message the shirt sends, they are at least aware of the shirt itself. In past years, some have designed similar shirts to wear with messages like “Girls? Fine By Me.”

“Those [alternative] shirts are just inspiration to work a little more to make a case for why we’re needed on campus,” Renfro said. “If people are still mocking sexuality and tolerance, then there is a problem.”

Vilim said she thinks no matter what the message on the shirts, it is obvious the campaign raises awareness.

“You can see by the spin-off shirts that people are at least thinking about the issue,” she said.

Acceptance of homosexuality on Notre Dame’s campus has been an issue of hot debate in the past few years. The Princeton Review, which had previously ranked Notre Dame as the No. 1 campus where alternative lifestyles are not an alternative, recently bumped the University to the No. 2 spot behind Hampden-Sydney College.

Wholley said she does not see fact that the ranking is viewed negatively as an issue.

“If by being intolerant the Princeton Review means that we are resistant to moral relativism, then I have no problem with the ranking,” she said.

Kempf said that while he does not particularly support the homosexual lifestyle, he does not necessarily think Notre Dame is intolerant.

“Maybe [the idea behind the ranking is] true, but I don’t see us as being hostile to gays,” he said. “I’ve never asked anyone if they’re gay and no one’s asked me, so I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think it’s a non-issue, and I think that’s what the shirts are saying – live and let live.”

Gomberg said she thinks the ranking reflects the attitude of the University institutions, not the student body. Although the Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution last year supporting official status for AllianceND, the group has been denied official club status by the University multiple times.

However, Out magazine – a national publication directed toward gay men – profiled Notre Dame in their Sept. 2005 college guide as the No. 1 place to go if you are gay and spiritual. The magazine cited last year’s Queer Film Fest, production of plays like The Laramie Project and the T-shirt campaign as indicators of a more accepting campus.

“I think we have a student body that is really supportive and working towards the goal of making Notre Dame more tolerant, but structural changes need to occur,” Gomberg said.