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viewpoint

We LOVE us

| Thursday, November 11, 2021

Four and a half years ago, I stepped onto Notre Dame’s campus for the first time. I was a closeted high school junior and the college application process was looming ahead of me. As my parents and I followed our tour guide around campus, I distinctly remember counting the pride flags I saw (three total) and thinking, “Wow. It’s safe here. Finally, I’m surrounded by the kind of Catholics who don’t tolerate hate. I could be out and proud in this environment.” At my high school, those flags would have been torn down. I assumed that the fact they were still flying meant that Notre Dame was a more open-minded community.

In the fall of 2018, I filled out my pre-college entrance demographic survey. When it came time to bubble in my sexual orientation, none of the options felt right, so I chose “questioning.” Notre Dame would be a good place to question, right? Wrong. Within months of being on campus, I hadn’t shared my identity with a single one of my friends. After we had been forced to flirt with our “brother dorms” during Welcome Weekend serenades, it felt weird to come out like, “Hey, you know that song we all sang about wanting to date the Keenan boys? Well, I’d actually rather date a Flaherty girl!” So, I didn’t.

By my sophomore year, I had a better grasp on the campus climate. I learned that not only is there an entire student “newspaper” dedicated to preserving the same fundamentalist version of Catholicism that I wanted to escape, there’s also an entire student organization, Students for Child-Oriented Policy, founded to preserve “the truth of marriage.” Sure, there’s also a Gender Relations Center and an LGBTQ+ student organization and the people who run both are amazing. But this is a campus where rejecting the dignity of queer and trans people isn’t considered hate. It’s a “political or religious opinion,” and it’s protected by the University.

It wasn’t until I left this place, which is supposed to be my “home,” that I came home to myself. During the quarantine period of 2020, I dedicated myself to my questioning and finally became comfortable with my identity. Since we returned to campus, I’ve been out and involved in the LGBTQ+ community.

A few weeks ago, I joined a meeting between students and administrators about affirming housing policy for transgender and queer students. I listened as peers explained traumatic experiences of explicit homophobia and transphobia in their own living spaces. Over and over, students explained that the situation of living as the “other” at Notre Dame is isolating, painful and scarring. But, so many chose to stay because they want to support their fellow queer and trans students.

In my sophomore “Faith and Feminism” class, my professor brought in an advertisement from 49 years ago, from when Notre Dame first began admitting women as undergraduates. It was a bright yellow poster with a large image of “Notre Dame Men” in rugby shirts. After some text describing the pivot to coeducation, the last words on the poster read “Women will like it at Notre Dame. Men have.”

I could imagine how this statement might be written today:

“Queer students will like it here. Straight students have.”

“Transgender students will like it here. Cisgender students have.”

I could go on and on. I could also complain about the binary way of thinking that this sentence structure enforces, but I fear we don’t have time for that conversation now.

The point I want to make is that this University has demonstrated countless times that, if you do not fit the mold of the stereotypical Notre Dame student — straight, white, wealthy, male, able-bodied and Catholic — then you must be your own advocate. You must be a martyr for your cause and stay in an environment that may not be safe for you, so that it will hopefully become safe for the future students who share that aspect of your identity.

To close the meeting on housing policy, the facilitating administrator said “Consider us your allies.”

Being an ally doesn’t just mean allowing our rainbow flags to fly. It’s not allyship to give us a platform to share our trauma, pat yourself on the back and proceed to do nothing. It’s not enough to keep doing the bare minimum.

I can’t speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community at Notre Dame, but I know that a lot of us are tired of being martyrs for the cause and we’re weary from fighting for our right to not only survive but thrive here. A lot of us are angry, and rightfully so. But, perhaps the most radical and revolutionary thing we can do in this environment is to dissent with our joy.

We’re not just angry all the time. While we’ve experienced some of our deepest pain here, we’ve also experienced some of our deepest joys in this place. We’ve fallen in love, with ourselves and each other. We’ve made lifelong friends and chosen our family. We’ve learned to live proudly and happily, without asking for permission.

Some people here want us to hate ourselves and our queerness, but we refuse. We love us.

Join us in celebrating our presence on this campus and in this community. Friday. Library Lawn. 3 p.m. Follow @queerjoynd on Instagram for more details.

 

Ashton Weber

senior

Nov. 10

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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