Gay rights revisited

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

Demonstrators gathered in bitterly cold lunchtime temperatures at Notre Dame’s main gate Wednesday, January 27, to advocate for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the University’s non-discrimination policy.

Some 200 students, faculty and area residents placed thick strips of purple tape over their mouths to symbolize what organizers say is the silence forced upon gay, lesbian and bisexual students by the lack of explicit protection under University policy and the absence of a recognized student organization that represents their interests. Many also wore orange armbands as an evocation of the orange “Gay? Fine By Me” T-shirts that campus activists have donned in recent years.

The group marched in silence up Notre Dame Avenue toward the Main Building, fronted by a banner displaying images of the Dome in the colors of the rainbow and the slogan “no home under the dome.”

Organizers say that while student groups have annually petitioned the University administration to add sexual orientation to its policy against discrimination in its education and athletic programs and its admissions, financial aid and employment practices, an additional, more visible action was warranted by an offensive cartoon that ran in the January 13 edition of the student newspaper, The Observer. The cartoon featured a joke making light of violence against sexual minorities. The strip, The Mobile Party, was immediately discontinued and an Observer editor later resigned.

Standing on the front steps of the Main Building, students led prayer and read the text of a letter addressed from “concerned members of the Notre Dame family” to Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, the University’s president. The letter cited “incredible progress” in the status of gay, lesbian and bisexual students at Notre Dame, represented by the 1997 Spirit of Inclusion document and the work of the Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, a panel of undergraduates and administrators that advises the University’s vice president for student affairs.

“However, there is still work to be done,” the letter continued.

“All of us gathered here are clear examples of God’s presence on earth. Yet as gay students we cannot gather as a recognized student organization. Our human life is precious but is not protected by a clause of non-discrimination. We are asking for a home under the Dome.”

Administrators have said that an explicit inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy would compromise the University’s ability as a private, Catholic institution to maintain a distinction between sexual orientation and practice according to Catholic doctrine on human sexuality.

A security guard met the protest’s five student leaders as they approached the Main Building’s front doors intent on delivering the letter to Father Jenkins by hand. The guard said they could not enter.

When the students returned to the steps to report to the gathering, a group of some three dozen professors stepped forward to press the cause. A representative from the President’s Office soon appeared to receive the letter, and the demonstrators dispersed.

The following evening, a closed panel of faculty and students addressed the issues raised by the Jan. 13 cartoon.

John Nagy is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.