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Students distribute LGBT Pride flags, protest Pence’s commencement speech

| Friday, April 21, 2017

Students passionate about LGBT voices at Notre Dame are coming together in an effort to find ways to protest this year’s Commencement speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.

Fifth-year student Bryan Ricketts said this campaign is in response to the “hostility” Pence has expressed toward LGBT rights.

He’s, in the past, been against same-sex marriage because it harms people, which is demonstrably false and really offensive,” he said. “In addition to that, he passed a budget which supported funding for conversion therapy, which is also just a whole other level of harmful to LGBT people. So it feels pretty offensive to have him coming on campus [to] give a Commencement speech where he tells me how to go out into the world.”

Ricketts and others came together and decided to distribute pride flags with the help of volunteers and alumni donations to send a message to Pence, he said.

“A wonderful show of solidarity, this brought together alumni, current students and faculty who wanted to be a part of showing students on Notre Dame’s campus that this a place where they are welcome and appreciated,” Ricketts said.

LGBT flags hang out the windows of a residence hall as a protest against Vice President Pence's upcoming Commencement speech.Michael Yu | The Observer
LGBT flags hang out the windows of a residence hall as a protest against Vice President Pence’s upcoming Commencement speech.

On Wednesday, the first day of the event, Ricketts said, there was a massive amount of initial support due to the dedication of student organizers.

“It was just a group of people who are like, this is really important to us,” he said. “And we’ve gotten a huge response. We’re almost out of flags and it’s the first day.”

The event’s Facebook page urges students to hang these flags out their windows to demonstrate solidarity against Pence’s speech.

Freshman Marisa Perino said she volunteered to help with the campaign because of Pence’s actions against the LGBT community.

“[He] voted for bills that allowed businesses to discriminate based on religious freedom,” she said. “ … That’s also extremely discriminatory, and I feel like Notre Dame should not be supporting [him].”

The event has not gone off without a hitch, organizers said, as those distributing flags at LaFortune Student Center were asked to stop by the Student Activities Office (SAO).

“We were just sitting at a table, we had flags and a computer … I was passing out flags, everyone was super happy, there was no drama,” Perino said. “The director of activities for [LaFortune Student Center] came up to me and was super intimidating, and super condescending and said, ‘You need to leave, you can’t be here.’”

Perino said she was told she could not distribute flags because she was not part of a sanctioned club event.

“He said that all clubs need to reserve a table … and I was like ‘We’re not with a club,’” she said. “I’m an individual student handing these out on my own, and he was like, ‘You need to have it reserved, you can’t solicit here, every activity needs to be planned out.’ He didn’t understand this wasn’t an activity, just a private student. He wasn’t even willing to listen to anything.”

Ron Grisoli, interim director of student activities facilities, said the students were asked to leave because they had not registered their distribution of flags.

Specific areas in LaFortune [Student Center] and around campus are designated for ‘tabling,’ or activities where recognized student groups may distribute anything from donuts, to t-shirts, to flags or petitions,” he said in an email. “Individual students not affiliated with a recognized student group may seek approval from the vice president for campus safety to hold a demonstration.  The reason the students were asked to leave yesterday had nothing to do with the nature of their activity, but rather because they were not affiliated with a recognized student group. … Only officially recognized student groups who submit their request for space and activities through [SAO] may use designated space in LaFortune [Student Center].”

Despite this explanation, Perino said she still believed it was her right as a private student, who was not part of a club, to distribute these flags. Ricketts said it felt like the University was, to some degree, silencing the group.

“It’s frustrating being a LGBT student at the University,” he said. “PrismND, the official Notre Dame group, isn’t allowed to do anything that could be construed as a political action. Officially, we’re not allowed to do anything, but when we do things as individuals we’re not allowed to do it, so it’s a really frustrating place to be. … It’s like the University doesn’t want us to speak at all, and that’s frustrating.”

Despite this setback, Ricketts, Perino and others will continue to distribute flags out of the College Democrats office in LaFortune Student Center.

Feedback had been overwhelmingly positive toward the event, Ricketts said, and they had received widespread support he believed could be sustained.

“[There have been many] people who saw the [event] online … and were like, I want to be part of this,” he said. “Certainly lots of LGBT alumni who wished [a show of solidarity like this] could have happened during their time here, but plenty of allies too.”

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

Contact Lucas