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Notre Dame alumnus talks LGBTQ+ ‘past, present and future’

| Monday, November 18, 2019

Liam Dacey, a Notre Dame alumnus (’04), gave a talk about the past, present and future of LGBTQ+ acceptance at Notre Dame on Friday in DeBartolo Hall. As an undergraduate, Dacey co-founded the University’s Queer Film Festival. Today, he is a board member of Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC), an officially unrecognized alumni group. Spectrum co-sponsored the talk with Diversity and Inclusion.

Dacey said he came out as gay his sophomore year at Notre Dame, during which he considered transferring colleges. However, he said support from professors helped him decide to stay.

“I remember, I’m meeting with Jill Godmilow, who’s an emeritus Professor now in FTT. And she was like, ‘You have to stay, there’s not enough gay people here. We need you,’ and she got other professors to talk to me and try to encourage me to stay, especially in the film department.”

Dacey said he came up with the idea for the Queer Film Festival the next year.

“I met someone who was the chair of GALA at the time, Gus Hinojosa, and I remember at Starbucks — this might have been later in my junior year — but we were just shooting the breeze and I was like, ‘Hey, maybe we should do like a gay film festival or an LGBT film festival,’ and he was like, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

In 2004, Notre Dame had its first Queer Film Festival.

“It was kind of a surreal weekend, the first festival especially. And at the end — it was like a three or four-day thing — we screened the last film at the Hesburgh Library.”

On the last day of the festival, Dacey said he and a group of festival members visited Fr. Hesburgh’s office.

“We met with Fr. Hesburgh, told him what we were doing — we just did the first-ever LGBT Film Festival at Notre Dame — and he blessed us. He compared what we were doing to what he did during the Civil Rights movement.”

In his talk, Dacey also recalled a conversation he once had with Fr. Mark Poorman, the former Vice President of Student Affairs at Notre Dame. Dacey wanted an LGBT student club on campus.

“I remember I asked him in his office once, ‘What’s it going to take? Why can’t we just get a student club?’ And he told me, in a very candid moment, ‘It’s just there’s not enough trust.’ And he was like, ‘Put yourself in the administration’s shoes. What if an LGBT student club, like, had some wild gay pride parade in the middle of campus? What would we do? How would we answer to alumni?’”

Dacey cited Notre Dame’s position as a Catholic university as an institutional obstacle to progress on LGBTQ+ issues.

“Here you not only have academia but you also have the Catholic Church,” Dacey said. “So you have two powerful forces working there. But that being said, I don’t think Notre Dame would have progressed as much as it has if it didn’t allow for progressive change.”

Describing the future of Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause, which currently does not include sexual and gender identity, Dacey brought up the Supreme Court’s upcoming Title VII decision. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlaws employee discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin; the future legal protection of sexual and gender identity depends on the court’s decision.

“I think whatever ruling they do there will definitely affect what Notre Dame ends up doing,” he said.

Even if the Supreme Court votes in opposition, however, Dacey said he believes the University will eventually expand its non-discrimination clause.

“If they don’t rule in our favor at the Supreme Court, and it just kind of goes back into Notre Dame’s hands,” Dacey said. “I think it’s going to take longer. I’m still optimistic it will happen, but I don’t see that happening easily and anytime soon.”

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