As Notre Dame’s and Saint Mary’s gay and lesbian alumni gathered in South Bend earlier this month to honor friends and champions like Sr. Mary Louise Gude, an instrument of hope, and Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a hero’s hero, I could not help but be struck by the vast divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” in the LGBT community. Those gathered seemed one-and-all to be strong, well-adjusted, loving and well-loved. Yet each and every one of us was only able to stand there because, in a very real sense, we overcame the obstacles that were placed against us. Somehow, by the grace of God, many of us did this alone.
Now we seem to hear every few days of a teenage life ended by despair over real or perceived sexual orientation. (And to those who think this is just a “gay problem,” please note I said “real or perceived.”) I think you can understand what I mean by a divide.
Maybe Domer’s and SMCer’s are made of much sterner stuff than the average teenager — but I really doubt it. The land mines in the way of each and every queer youth, even today, would make a grown man blanch. Consider that 90 percent will experience harassment from peers and “friends.” One third of all successful suicide attempts are made by LGBT youth and half of all transgender persons will attempt suicide at least once.
The Center for American Progress reports that as many as 40 percent of the 1.6 million homeless kids on the streets this very night were kicked from their homes after their families learned their sexual orientation. The mean age of these children at the time of their rejection is fourteen, 58 percent will be sexually assaulted, and they will attempt suicide, on average, more than eight times.
That we permit all of this, and indeed that many of us barely notice, is intolerable and a sin against the spirit of God.
So when we gather to remind Notre Dame that, yes, we are still here and we have heros too, this is inevitably part of the context that we gather in. As Fehrenbach implied in his acceptance speech, it is not for ourselves that we fight but for those who cannot fight for themselves.
At the end of the day, GALA-ND/SMC doesn’t really need Notre Dame to recognize us (which it hasn’t) and we don’t really need University President Fr. John Jenkins to meet with us (which he hasn’t). But our struggling brothers and sisters, those who are following after us — those who, but for the grace of God we would still be — they still need it very much.
They need a University which is brave enough to say, “We don’t need to reserve the option to discriminate against you on no other basis than your sexual orientation. If this opens us up to some sort of legal problems, we do not care. We love you more than this.”
They need a University which is brave enough to say, “It doesn’t matter if our donors or our trustees walk away because we choose to accept you. If we lose money and power and prestige because of you, we do not care. We love you more than this.”
But most of all, they need a University which has the compassion to say, “It does not matter if the leaders of the Church fly at us in anger, or if the public rejects us because we choose to embrace you. If even one of our students is hurt because of our inaction, it is one too many. We love you more than this.”
So for their sake we remind Notre Dame of what is supposed to be — what it has been before in other situations — and of the profound, radical and unpopular depth of genuine love.
Until that day comes — and it will come — only the students, the faculty and the staff of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s have the power to do what the administration will not. Don’t be fooled by the glossy veneer: Even in a place as sunshiny as Notre Dame there are people who suffer in silence. And beyond these walls you are also the instrument of God in the larger world, where naked hatred may still be found in broad daylight. In this culture, it takes less than you think to destroy someone. In all times and places challenge intolerance, encourage dialogue, and be open about yourself. Above all else serve love.
You may end up saving a life.
Lance Gallop is a 2005 graduate of Notre Dame, an officer of GALA-ND/SMC and a former Viewpoint columnist. He has never regretted the road he has taken. If anything here resonates with you please consider donating to The Trevor Project, an LGBT suicide prevention hotline, at www.thetrevorproject.org. Gallop can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.