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The blood of martyrs

| Tuesday, September 4, 2018

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I often heard this adage from my high school theology teacher. Among other phrases, she utilized it to support the idea that the Church is stronger as a result of being persecuted. She never acknowledged that certain segments of the Church, or she herself, might be the persecutor.

Growing up in the Catholic school system, I heard messages of love and acceptance alongside messages of hatred and malignancy. I heard that Christ loved all people, regardless of their sins, while also being berated with the idea that homosexuality was unnatural, shameful and deviant. My teachers, who were so full of love and selflessness, turned into machines of exclusion when it came to this one topic. Suddenly, love was not the answer; queer love, and LGBTQ openness, was “destroying the family.” My classmates laughed when our theology teacher told us “A blender can’t fit in a blender.” How could they even begin to comprehend the immense pain they were propagating?

After 18 years of this narrative, it felt easy to adjust to Notre Dame. The differences between Notre Dame and my conservative Catholic high school are few and far between. The one exception to this similarity is that, unlike my teachers’ absurd mantras, Notre Dame and its affiliates actually publish this kind of stuff.

During the past summer, while sitting in an artificially white office, I stumbled upon a debate which, in the eyes of so many people, has been settled. I quickly came to realize that few debates are settled — even those concerning essential human rights — at Notre Dame. At my research mentor’s prompting, I was reading articles by Notre Dame’s legendary natural law philosopher, John Finnis. Page by page, article by article, I read a message all too common on Notre Dame’s campus — that queerness, in any form, is inferior.

You see, it’s easy to say that everyone ‘belongs at Notre Dame.’ And I genuinely hope every individual finds a place at Our Lady’s wonderful University. But when you are gay at Notre Dame, it’s easier to feel like inferiority personified than a welcome and valued human being.

The more we wear ‘ally’ pins and plaster pride stickers on our dorms, the more obvious it becomes that Notre Dame is the locus of a debate for rights which should have been won long ago. We are the locus of Catholic extremists — alumni who degrade queerness, call gay people disordered and foster repressive tendencies. We are a University of acceptance — that is, acceptance only if you happen to be a straight individual.

This is not to say that every Notre Dame alumni is homophobic, or that all LGBTQ student find themselves discriminated against. Far from it. After living for 19 years in the closet, I found friends and mentors who are inclusive and compassionate at Notre Dame. Overwhelmingly, the Notre Dame community is one of kindness. But the reason I’m writing this article is because we are still falling short. Each day that we allow militant, extremist Catholics to slur hateful speech unopposed, we fail as individuals.When we perpetuate dorm cultures in which men use “gay” as a derogatory slur on a daily basis, we fail as a University.

For too long, I have allowed orthodox individuals to degrade me, to repress my identity and to fill me with dark and demeaning thoughts. Catholics and other conservative Christian denominations will be quick to call LGBTQ individuals unnatural simply because they have been told we are. They will point fingers, without regard for our humanity, our most intimate identities, or our lived experience. I refuse to stand idly by as Notre Dame’s staff, students and alumni cherry-pick and weaponize Catholic teaching as an assault on human rights. I refuse to accept the idea that what one group of oppressive men deemed “natural” long ago is the only fitting form of love.

To exist, to love, to flourish. That is our calling. And for too long, I have accepted persecution instead. It makes sense, I guess. When your entire upbringing involves venerating those saints who were murdered for their beliefs, it’s easy to overlook the fact that your own institution is part of a new form of violence. Notre Dame, Our Lady’s University, has become part of an oppressive scholarly regime. Instead of attacking religious beliefs, militant conservative Catholics have taken aim at something much deeper: the LGBTQ identity and the equal right to marriage.

During these transformative first weeks on campus for our first-year students, I have a new challenge for the Notre Dame community. I call on you to question what it means to be natural. I dare you to go out of your way to exemplify the radical hospitality which all Catholics should show non-Catholics. I challenge you to welcome LGBTQ students in spite of your single-gender, parietals-stricken and heteronormative dorm culture. Because I, for one, refuse to accept the idea that my blood should be a seed planted by someone else’s hatred.

David Phillips


Sep. 3

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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