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Notre Dame’s ally movement

Alex Coccia | Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Thursday, Oct. 6, Progressive Student Alliance kicked off its “4 to 5 Movement” with the hope of getting those who support the rights of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) people more involved and vocal on campus. “Four out of five college … educated people between the ages of 18 and 30 in the United States right now support the general package of gay rights. … 80 percent of you support my rights, you only think that it’s about a third of you,” said Brian Sims, the first openly gay college football captain, at the 2011 Rally for Diversity. The statistic is a double-edged sword, but provides an opportunity for everyone who identifies as an ally.

The positive side of the statistic is of course that 80 percent of college educated youth support gay rights. They recognize that LGBTQ members of the community should be free from discrimination in housing, in employment, in public accommodations and from hate crimes. According to a 2004 National Youth Survey, these numbers of support are well over 80 percent. Moreover, the study found that “youth support for equal protections for gays seems to cross partisan, ideological and religious lines. For example, majorities of Republican, conservative and Born-Again Christian youth also support protections on housing, employment and hate crimes.” The movement from 4 to 5 signifies the positive trend of support among the youth in this country. There exists not only the goal to get allies to raise their voices, but to also try to convince those who currently oppose gay rights to recognize the dignity of each human person, gay or straight. Unfortunately, because the one-fifth who do not support gay rights are very loud, the allies who are a part of the majority are drowned out. Those speaking rightly on behalf of the gay community are either unheard or silenced completely.

So why is there a need at Notre Dame for a movement to raise the voices of the allies?

According to Progressive Student Alliance co-president Jackie Emmanuel, “the same dynamic exists on Notre Dame’s campus: The support is there, but it is overwhelmed by the loud one-fifth.” Professor Sarah McKibben stresses the importance of allies on campus: “They can show the breadth of support for GLBTQ rights and can demonstrate that it’s not ‘just a gay thing.’ To allies, I would say ‘your voice is incredibly powerful, so use it!'” Of course it is not just students who can act as allies, but faculty, like Professor McKibben as well. “To faculty, I would say that it’s important to be explicit in class about standing up for a welcoming, supportive campus where bullying is not tolerated and diversity is celebrated. I am proud to support GLBTQ inclusion, rights and visibility in and out of the classroom,” says McKibben.

Mary Dewey, a member of the class of 2011, writes, “Every movement for minority rights needs allies. A relatively small percentage of the population identifies as LGBT, but the vast majority of the population supports our rights.” According to junior and CORE Council member, Karl Abad, “When you’re in the closet, it’s difficult to hear anything but the loudest noises from outside that door. … Allies mean the world to not only us, but also to the entire movement. Allies are probably the most crucial asset in our mission towards equal rights.” Allies help to open the closet door and allow members of the community who identify as LGBTQ to live without fear of rejection in this Notre Dame community whose foundation is based upon Christ’s love for others.

A coalition of students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae who represent the majority is a key component to this year’s 4 to 5 Movement, stresses Emmanuel. Being an active and vocal ally can have important and often unrecognized positive effects. Simple things can be done to change the campus environment, like calling someone out when he or she says, “that’s so gay” or “fag.” When such a chant, like “Zahm’s gay,” is bellowed at a football game, it contributes to an environment that alienates its members who identify as LGBTQ, and it is certainly not an action that lives up to the “Spirit of Inclusion.” Being an ally addresses the heterosexual privilege that exists on campus that represses an inclusionary environment. Being an ally sends a message that such exclusionary and derisive language will not be tolerated.

So the opportunity presented is great. Anyone can be an ally — students, faculty, staff, administrators and the Board of Trustees. An Ally Movement for Notre Dame, if the community wishes to accept it, can help Notre Dame become a model for religious institutions across the country when it comes to acceptance of, and protection for, its members who identify as LGBTQ.

Alex Coccia is a sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.