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Two Words

Darryl Campbell | Sunday, April 27, 2008

The very first “real” college football game I went to was this past September when Notre Dame played Georgia Tech. Two things stuck with me about it. First was the sense of awe that I got when I saw a stadium full of fans hanging on every play, which was definitely not the case in the Division I-AA games I’d seen. The second was that before the game, I heard more than a few fans chanting “Go Irish, beat ‘gay’ Tech,” then laughing at their own cleverness at substituting “gay” for GA. Later that term, I heard that a few people were planning on demonstrating (against homosexuality, I guess) by wearing “Gay? Go to Hell” T-shirts around campus. In both cases, I rolled my eyes and wondered how people could act in such poor taste, but didn’t dwell too much on it.Last week, I was asked to sign a petition to get the University to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause, something that students have been trying to get passed for about a decade. And as I thought back to those episodes from last fall, I realized that there was a common thread connecting them with the petition. By refusing to protect homosexuals in its non-discrimination clause, the University is doing the same thing as the people who use the word “gay” pejoratively or who are wearing “Gay? Go to Hell” T-shirts. All of them, simply put, are reducing a person’s identity to their sexual orientation.According to the University, adding the words “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause could open up a Pandora’s Box of litigation, possibly compromising its ability “to support Church teachings on sexual orientation and conduct,” especially problematic since such a matter has “theological connotations.” The governing bodies of the University, meanwhile, pay lip service to inclusiveness – as the Spirit of Inclusion reassures us, “we value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community” – but will not say so in any legally binding sense. In the meantime, the University tacitly reserves the right (one that, to be sure, is very rarely, if ever, invoked) to keep gay and lesbian students from taking classes, playing sports, getting scholarships and generally taking advantage of the many great opportunities afforded to them by the University.I wonder, then, how insisting that homosexuals are equally valued members in the community but refusing to give them the same legal protection that everyone else gets promotes a “Spirit of Inclusion.” To define someone by their sexual orientation – whether for comic effect, for the sake of provocation or to refuse them legal protection from discrimination – is to judge them for one small aspect of their identity, not on the merits of their personality, intellect or character. Even the Church acknowledges that a homosexual person is not defined entirely by their sexual conduct. Such reductionism is a denial of basic human dignity. And it is therefore doubly insulting that the reasons that the University gives for doing so are ultimately practical (i.e. to prevent legal meddling in University affairs), though the theological implications are sometimes vaguely alluded to.According to its mission statement, Notre Dame prides itself for instilling in its students not only “those disciplined habits of mind, body and spirit which characterize educated, skilled, free human beings,” but also imparting to them “a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good.” We need look no further than our own university – in fact, no further than the book that contains these very statements – to see where a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good is lacking, all over two words.I signed the petition, by the way.

Darryl Campbell is a first-year graduate student in history. He can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.