As part of the fourth annual “StaND Against Hate” week, the Core Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Questioning students, held a panel entitled “Homosexuality Under the Dome: Past Struggles and Present Solutions” on April 13. The event featured panelists of alumni and current students who voiced personal testimonies of violence and prejudice towards their sexual orientation.
In conjunction with the Gender Relations Center and student government, the Core Council sought to raise awareness and present solutions for discrimination based on sexual orientation. The witnesses and the panel recounted a history of homophobia at Notre Dame, evaluated the psychology of sexual minority aggressors, and offered solutions for a more inclusive community at the University.
Tom Fields, a ’54 Notre Dame alumnus, made the opening statement. He began by recalling his own experience at Notre Dame, which “warped and changed [his] life profoundly.” Fields emphasized the commonality of this experience, attributing the strife of a gay student on Notre Dame’s campus to internal violence. This violence, Fields said, is inflicted by one’s own self, since the social structures and prejudices force a gay or lesbian student to retreat into their respective closets. “So far as I knew,” Fields said, “I was the only person in the history of Notre Dame who had ever experienced same-sex attraction…the closet is extraordinarily cruel.”
Fields urged for reform within the University, pointing out that the Notre Dame should be “eager to help students grow in personal integrity, to practice truth-telling, and to demonstrate moral courage” by dissolving social structures that isolate these students and placing the needs of the students ahead of the expectations of alumni and “outside meddlers, both those in business suits and in cassocks.”
Fields also expressed his discontent regarding “Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion” statement, which was released in conjunction with the “Open Letter to the Notre Dame Community” by University President Emeritus Rev. Edward Malloy. In the “Spirit of Inclusion,” the request for the addition of sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause was denied on the grounds that such an amendment would “jeopardize our ability to make decisions that we believe are necessary to support Church teaching.” In the words of the statement, non-discrimination clauses “are highly stylized statements which are legally binding,” thus subjecting the University’s decision to the scrutiny of civil courts.
The University’s statement clearly expresses a desire “to continue to speak to this issue in the Catholic content that is normative for this community,”[C1] Fields condemned this argument as a bizarre one that “flaunts the facts and defies logic.”
Fields’ speech was followed by a presentation from Rick Duffer Landavazo’81 , who shared his experience of sexual discrimination during his time at Notre Dame. Landavazo recalled a particular incident when someone from residence hall, Grace Hall, transcribed a line of hate speech on the elevator doors. The doors came together to form a coherent derogatory remark as they closed. Landavazo decided against cleaning the offensive vandalism from the elevator doors so that it could attest to the existent of prejudice on campus.
In short, Landavazo found it difficult in his time at Notre Dame to find a place in a “Catholic community that preaches love but practices hate.” At the end of his testimony, Landavazo proposed a survival strategy for those gay and lesbian students who struggle with their identity and “can’t live without the Eucharist.” His survival tips included the recognition that the Catholic Church is a “fallible church,” to embrace “cafeteria Catholicism,” and to rest assured that “God will find you where you are.”
Like Fields and Landavazo, Richard Beatty ’91 also shared his experience of discrimination at Notre Dame. He agreed with the previous speakers, pushing for the addition of sexual discrimination to the non-discrimination clause on the grounds that “if it’s not prohibited, it is permitted.”
Melanie LeMay and Eddie Velasquez, participating member and co-chair of the Core Council respectively, also had the chance to speak. They reflected positively on recent changes made at the University. Such changes included regular meetings between Rev. John Jenkins and LGBTQ students, a noticeably welcoming student culture, and Viewpoint articles from student allies. Velasquez remarked that the claim that ‘there are no resources available for gay and lesbian students’ is “simply not the case.” They also voiced a desire to initiate a recognized student club for LBGTQ students on campus.
Dr. Dominic Parrott, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University,addressed the psychology behind aggression towards sexual minorities. According to Parrott, the four leading causes for such hate crimes are attributed to gender role enforcement, peer dynamics, thrill seeking, and psychological defensiveness. Parrott pointed out the social stigma attached to the homosexual person is the root of the problem. He claimed that this stigma induces discriminatory action from heterosexuals because sexual minorities are seen as “low status targets.”
Billed on the event advertisements as an “alcohol-based researcher,” Parrott also addressed the prevalence of prejudicial attacks when drinking is involved. Pointing out that identifying the causes of aggression may lead to possible solutions, Parrott claimed that he seeks to resolve hate crimes, but in doing so, he urges others to see that the “prevalence of the problem is underrated.”
Ray Korson is a Catholic, not a homophobe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.