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PrismND officers advocate for LGBTQ+ community

| Thursday, October 17, 2019

October is LGBT History Month, celebrating the history and resilience of the LGBTQ community. But PrismND, Notre Dame’s only official LGBTQ+ student organization, is committed to promoting pride and allyship year-round. As they plan for the year ahead, PrismND’s officers said they want to facilitate love and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community on Notre Dame’s campus.

Senior Kendrick Peterson, president of PrismND, said Notre Dame’s Catholic identity makes Prism’s LGBTQ+ advocacy work “a unique challenge.” Although the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage and transgender identities on doctrinal grounds, it also stresses the dignity of the human person. That emphasis on human dignity, PrismND officers said, aligns with Prism’s mission.

“There’s a huge element of Catholic Social Teaching — those elements that Notre Dame really does try to emphasize,” said junior Matt Sahd, co-vice president of PrismND.

Peterson said many Catholics on campus believe LGBTQ+ individuals should be able to live their identities freely.

“You should allow LGBTQ+ people to live authentically because they belong to our community and they sit on the margins of our society, and we need to help those people,” he said.

PrismND officers said many members of Notre Dame’s LGBTQ+ community need affirmation and support. In spring 2018, the University published the results of its Campus Climate Survey, revealing that many transgender and non-binary students say they don’t feel a sense of belonging at Notre Dame. Additionally, many transgender and non-binary students reported experiencing adverse treatment by students, staff and faculty.

Taz Bashir, a fifth year architecture student and co-vice president of PrismND, said the survey results made PrismND “explicitly aware of how disadvantaged our transgender community is and how a lot of our queer individuals on campus do not feel like they’re welcome.” 

In response, PrismND has prioritized advocacy work for the transgender community this year. Bashir said he hopes PrismND can “provide spaces that are both safe and welcoming and respectful to everyone and their stories.”

Although PrismND was officially founded in 2013, Sahd said PrismND can trace its roots back to 1996 when the University created the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs. 

In the years since that first University committee was created to support the LGBTQ+ community, the officers said the support for LGBTQ+ students has improved significantly. Even though some student groups and administrators still oppose PrismND’s work, Bashir said those voices are no longer mainstream.

“All these views are largely on the fringe. And the reality is, your average Notre Dame student is an ally now. I couldn’t have said that five or 10 years ago,” Bashir said. “We see our community as one that welcomes us, and when we see the attacks against us, we recognize that isn’t common opinion.”

As the only LGBTQ+ student group on campus, PrismND officers said they face the challenge of catering to a highly diverse community. To meet this challenge, the officers said they’ve intentionally reached out to communities and student groups that haven’t traditionally been involved with the group.

Jenny Gomez, secretary of PrismND, is a senior at Holy Cross. She said the organization has become much more diverse since she first joined.

“My freshman year, the only person I knew — besides myself — who was going to PrismND meetings was a gay, white, cisgender male,” she said. “We’ve grown to the point that we have probably the most diverse board that Prism has seen in its [history].”

According to its bylaws, PrismND is an apolitical organization, meaning the organization does not endorse political candidates or engage in political activism. However, as an organization committed to defending the LGBTQ+ community, Prism officers said they often find themselves forced into contentious debates.

“No matter what, we’re an apolitical organization,” Peterson said. “However, advocating for queer identity can be seen as political.”

The officers said they want to collaborate with a diverse array of student groups across the ideological spectrum. Last November for the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, PrismND held a prayer service with the pro-life student group Notre Dame Right to Life to honor the memories of transgender individuals who had lost their lives. 

As the year continues, Peterson said he hopes more student organizations will reach out to PrismND, bridging the divide between different communities on campus.

“Prism is an organization about love,” he said.

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