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From the Archives: LGBTQ+ community experiences University pushback

, and | Monday, November 22, 2021

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a two-part From the Archives series depicting the history of LGBTQ+ activism at Notre Dame. The first story was published Wednesday, Nov. 17.

As the LGBTQ+ community at Notre Dame gained more visibility and social acceptance, University administration pushed back against acknowledging the group’s demands for official recognition and protection from discrimination. 

In this second part of the From the Archives series on the history of LGBTQ+ activism at Notre Dame —  accompanied by the commentary of Marty Kennedy (‘22), leader of the LGBTQ ND project — we will investigate how LGBTQ+ students and allies have challenged the University’s attempts to silence them and how their persistent activism led to positive change for the community.    

Notre Dame refuses to revise non-discrimination clause

Aug. 29, 1997 | Heather Cocks | Researched by Adriana Perez

On Aug. 29, 1997, then-University President Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy announced Notre Dame would not be revising its non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation. At the time, the clause also did not include gender.

After unofficial student organization Gays and Lesbians of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (GLND/SMC) were denied meeting space on campus by Student Affairs in January 1995, Campus Life Council requested the group be officially recognized. Student Affairs’ response was to create an Ad Hoc Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs.

This committee presented 12 recommendations, one of which was the revision of the non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation. But an “apparent lack of action” led groups such as the student senate, faculty senate and College Democrats to request a decision be made regarding the revision in the spring of 1997.

“On Aug. 27 … they did just that,” News Editor Heather Cocks (‘99) wrote. University officials had decided they would not carry out the revision.

Observer archives, Aug. 29, 1997

Defending their decision, the administration cited “the Church’s distinction between homosexual activity and sexual orientation, which differs from that of the courts.” Malloy explained in an open letter published in the same issue of The Observer that “the Church teaches that sexual orientation is neither sinful nor evil.”

But courts don’t make that distinction, according to University officials — so a legal provision would be subject to interpretation by civil courts, thus leaving the University open to the possibility of legal action “from its disapproval of homosexual behavior.”

This open letter was accompanied by a statement entitled “The Spirit of Inclusion at Notre Dame,” which was to be included in “most major University publications” such as du Lac and the faculty handbook.

The idea was that this new statement would “have the same effect on campus life as would the revision route,” Malloy said.

“We can do this, not in a civil law context, but as an appeal to the Christian sense of justice and society,” he added.

Marty Kennedy, leader of the archival LGBTQ ND project, commented on how the Spirit of Inclusion served as a legal loophole, preventing members of the LGBTQ community to pursue legal action against the University of Notre Dame. 

“The Spirit of Inclusion is a great message to the University, saying that we do not discriminate against race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. The spirit of inclusion is great … as a message,” Kennedy said. “The problem becomes when the Spirit of Inclusion is specifically put in to have no legal grounding. Sexual orientation is in the Spirit of Inclusion, but not in the non-discrimination clause, so no legal action can be taken on the basis of discrimination against sexual orientation. You could take legal action for race or for socioeconomic status, but not for sexual orientation.” 

Today, although Notre Dame recently updated its policies on discriminatory and sexual harassment to include the prohibition of “unwelcome conduct” on the basis of gender identity, the non-discrimination clause still does not include sexual orientation or gender identity: 

The University of Notre Dame does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, veteran status, genetic information or age in the administration of any of its educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletic and other school-administered programs, or in employment.

For many in the LGBTQ+ community, the Spirit of Inclusion fell short of protecting their presence on campus. 

Professor resigns, protesting discrimination

March 19, 1998 | Matthew Loughran | Researched by Adriana Perez

Many people were not satisfied with Notre Dame’s decisions regarding the Spirit of Inclusion. Fr. David Garrick, assistant professor of communications and theater, resigned from the University on March 18, 1998, in protest of the fact that officers at Notre Dame had not revised the non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation.

“I hope that a protest of this size might draw attention to the fact that this is everyone’s problem,” he said back then. “If any people are denied their rights, everyone else’s rights are diminished.”

This ideal resonated — one of his students wrote to him, saying, “You have opened my eyes to a problem I didn’t think was mine. It is. As a Christian and as a student here it’s my problem too, and I know others will realize the same.”

Many of Garrick’s colleagues and students in the communication and theater department also expressed support for him, as well as disappointment in seeing him go.

Garrick had come out as a gay, celibate Holy Cross priest in a Letter to the Editor to The Observer published April 4, 1996. In it, he also decried the University’s decision to not revise the non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation.

Observer archives, March 19, 1998

“I was already protesting that the University will only give pretty language in a ‘Spirit of Inclusion,’” he said. “I had already spoken out against the fact that homosexuals were not given the legal protection that would have resulted from putting sexual orientation into the non-discrimination clause.”

In discussing his resignation, Garrick also claimed he’d been wrongly suspended from his ministerial duties at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“But I wanted the opportunity to minister as a priest to the community,” he continued. “Whoever it was that suspended me would have thought twice about it if sexual orientation had been in the non-discrimination clause.”

Kennedy pointed out that as a reputable priest, Garrick effectively exposed the problem with the Spirit of Inclusion to many.

“Since writing a letter coming out as gay to The Observer, Fr. Garrick had been barred from performing Mass or confession in the Basilica,” Kennedy said. “The University denied that his sexual orientation was the reason for reducing his pastoral duties.” 

The reason for Garrick’s exit from public ministry was never officially proven, which Kennedy attributed to the lack of legal protection that the Spirit of Inclusion offers.

“There was no legal method to prove who was telling the truth. Fr. Garrick’s claim could not have been legally backed up because the non-discrimination clause didn’t include sexual orientation,” Kennedy asserted. “If sexual orientation had been included, he could have sued and justice could have been pursued, whether he was right or wrong.”  

Kennedy concluded that Garrick’s resignation served as a poignant example that the Spirit of Inclusion only talked the talk, without providing any real security to the LGBTQ+ community at Notre Dame. Fr. Garrick shed the spotlight on the Spirit of Inclusion, showing that it was insufficient in the protection of queer people. 

Gay ads: promoting LGBTQ inclusivity in the face of traditional Catholic teachings

Aug. 27, 1999 | Tim Logan | Researched by Lilyann Gardner 

It is difficult for viewers to miss the eye-catching advertisements when flipping through the pages of the Observer. Student clubs, alumni and local businesses vie for the attention of the Notre Dame community. 

Observer archives, Feb. 7, 1973
In 1973, The Observer published its first ad for “Gay Awareness,” an organization for gay students to convene and share their experiences.

The Observer staff readily displays these local advertisements — but not all advertisements gained administrative approval.

In 1999, just two years after the University of Notre Dame adopted the Spirit of Inclusion Statement, the administration implemented a policy prohibiting the print of ads created by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC).  

This proscription by the administration invoked frustration for many students, including The Observer’s Editor-in-Chief Michelle Krupa (‘00). Krupa called for the University to make a definitive and written directive about GALA Advertisements due to the contradictory nature of the new policy. 

Chandra Johnson, the assistant to the president of the University at the time, responded, “Because we are a Catholic institution, we uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. We’ve made a blanket statement against GALA.” 

Johnson’s letter went on to emphasize that the motivation behind barring GALA ads was to establish a “pervasiveness” that would apply to other groups that allegedly strayed from traditional Catholic morals and teachings. 

Kennedy commented on the University’s decision to censor GALA ads in The Observer.

“The Catholic faith is used to justify injustice and censorship as a logic at this University time and time again. The University claims that it cannot promote the ‘homosexual lifestyle,’ which is allegedly intrinsically against the Church. It is a very outdated and discriminatory philosophy,” he said.

Observer archives, Aug. 27, 1999

The administration downplayed their discriminatory action by accentuating the fact that GALA’s advertisements were primarily benefitting OutReach ND, previously known as GLND/SMC, which was denied recognition as a University student group in 1995. 

The prior dismissal allowed the University to exploit the rule, stating that unrecognized student groups were not sanctioned to advertise in campus media. The University went on to claim that GALA’s implied opposition to Catholic teachings was the final straw in their prohibition policy. 

John Blandford (‘99), chairman of GALA and previous GLND/SMC co-chair, adamantly countered this anti-Catholic narrative. 

“GALA has never taken a stance that would contradict the stance of the Catholic Church,” Blandford stated. “To assert that we’ve done so is simply a lie.” 

GALA did not seek to create division or opposition to the Catholic roots of the University; instead, they wanted to foster a culture in which current students and alumni in the LGBTQ+ community felt welcomed and accepted. Their advertisements sought to build a network of support in the name of inclusivity. 

The repressive policy against GALA’s ads highlighted the University of Notre Dame’s failure to adhere to its own Spirit of Inclusivity Statement and exposed the fraught conversation surrounding Catholic acceptance and respect of LGBTQ identities. 

Because The Observer is an independent newspaper, Kennedy saw the University’s threat to censor content as problematic. 

“There were people who posted op-eds that were racist, and there were times where a lot of people at this University were awful to low-income people … these instances were all allowed to be in The Observer,” Kennedy remarked. “When you brought in queer people, however, these Catholic values were launched on them, even though many of them were also Catholic. It’s a ploy to push a version of the Catholic faith that the University believes is what the Church teaches.”  

Despite the ban, The Observer continued to run GALA-ND/SMC ads, standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community at Notre Dame and preserving its journalistic freedom. 

Though these stories of University pushback can be discouraging, through student and community activism, progress has been made towards structural inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students. The Gender Relations Center was founded in 2004, and in 2013, PrismND was instituted as Notre Dame’s first and only recognized undergraduate LGBTQ+ student group on campus. 

Despite the bleakness in the history of LGBTQ+ activism at Notre Dame, there are glimmers of hope and light in the changes that have taken place in the last 25 years. Kennedy reflected on the work that he has done in documenting LGBTQ+ history at Notre Dame, and the work that must still be done.

“The reason I’ve done this research and the reason I’ve invested so much time in it, is that these stories are hope. This history is inherently hopeful,” he said. “It’s a story of resilience, of fighting for justice, of bravery. Where people who felt discriminated against by an institution fought to say something about it and action passed. You can’t read these stories without being angry, but you also can’t read these stories without being hopeful. Change happens at this University when students act and speak up about issues. Every instance of justice for queer people on this campus is a result of direct action, activism and mobilization.”  

In regards to the journey for queer activism ahead, Kennedy emphasized the necessity of the prioritization of transgender rights and activism.

“As we move forward, we must include trans justice. This is an area where we must improve queer justice, in providing gender-affirming housing, visibility and access to the same rights as cisgender people on this campus.” 

Kennedy encouraged all of us here at Notre Dame to listen to the stories of queer students, both past and present, so we can learn how to best serve their needs.

“We need to continue that joy, that hope and that fight for justice,” he said.

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About Uyen Le

Uyen is a junior at Notre Dame, studying English and Gender Studies. She is currently serving as the Leader of the From the Archives Project.

Contact Uyen

About Adriana Perez

Adriana is a Notre Dame senior from Guayaquil, Ecuador, majoring in political science and minoring in the Gallivan Program of Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Observer for the 2021-2022 term. You can find her at @adrianamperezr on Twitter.

Contact Adriana

About Lilyann Gardner

Contact Lilyann