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Coming Out Closets



PrismND sponsored its annual event “Coming Out Closets” on Wednesday, October 8. The event consisted of doorframes lined with rainbow streamers located outside of both DeBartolo Hall and Lafortune Student Center, as students were encouraged to walk through the doorframe to symbolize “coming out of the closet” as whatever they chose to be.

An article in the next day’s Observer, “PrismND sponsors ‘Coming Out Closets,’” presented PrismND’s rationale for the event.

PrismND vice president Lily Crawford is quoted as explaining,

People will go through the door frames as a metaphor for coming out of the closet, but they’re going to come out as any part of their identity. They can come out as a business major or an engineer or a band geek or an artist, or whatever they want to come out as. We want to show everybody that the entirety of their identity is valued and they don’t have to keep a part of it hidden if they don’t want to.

PrismND president Bryan Ricketts explained that the event was meant as a visible way of supporting people who choose to ‘come out.’

Notre Dame has participated in National Coming Out Day (NCOD) since at least 2004. An Observer article from October 12, 2004, explains that the unrecognized student group AllianceND had “planned to display a super-sized Coming Out Closet on South Quad,” but were not given approval by the Office of Student Affairs for the demonstration. The article goes on to cite Anna Gomberg, the project coordinator, as emphasizing that the event was meant to bring the community together and to highlight National Coming Out Day.

A month later, the Observer reported that with the help of the Notre Dame Sociology Department and Graduate Student Union, AllianceND was officially permitted to organize a “Coming-Out Celebration” featuring a larger-than-life closet.

Notre Dame’s participation in NCOD since 2004 has continued despite NCOD’s home in the Human Rights Campaign, a political activism group one of the express goals of which is to lobby for legislation that the Catholic Church, including Notre Dame’s local ordinary Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, opposes as gravely unjust and contrary to the “duty of charity.”Coming Out Closets 2

This year’s “Coming Out Closets” severed explicit ties to NCOD, but the event’s timing (NCOD is held annually on October 11, a Saturday this year) and location, as well as its execution and its organizers’ explanation of it, are nearly if not wholly identical to years past.

The Rover contacted Dennis Brown, Assistant Vice President for University Communications; Christine Caron Gebhardt, Director of the Gender Relations Center; and Maureen Doyle, Assistant Director for LGBTQ Initiatives at the Gender Relations Center, inquiring into the rationale behind Coming Out Closets, how that rationale comports with Notre Dame’s commitment to Catholic teaching on sexuality, and how celebrating Coming Out Closets contributes to a sound pastoral ministry to students struggling with issues of sexuality.

Brown responded:

An outline of the University’s services and programs that support students who identify as LGBTQ is described in Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of LGBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame. These services involve several campus departments in addition to the student organization PrismND. Like all student organizations, PrismND understands its responsibility to plan events that are consistent with the University’s Catholic mission that affirm the human dignity of each member of our community. Well beyond only one event, there were several speakers, programs, and educational sessions during early October that covered spirituality and sexual orientation, Church teaching on sexuality, and ways of indicating that our campus is a safe environment for students who may be questioning their sexual orientation.

The Rover sought clarification, inquiring:

Bishop Rhoades, speaking two summers ago, noted that ‘unlike most of society, the Catholic Church refuses to define people in terms of their sexual inclination.’ Yet that is precisely what Coming Out Closets encourages students to do—to autoidentify themselves with their sexual inclinations. How is the celebration of Coming Out Closets consonant with or facilitative of sound pastoral ministry to students struggling with issues of sexual attraction or identity?

Brown, speaking also on behalf of Caron Gebhardt and Doyle (who did not respond to Rover inquiries), wrote:

The response I sent to you … provides our perspective on this matter. We have nothing more to add.

The Rover posed the same questions to Fr. William Lies, Vice President for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs.

Fr. Lies responded to Rover inquiries thus:

[M]y sense is that those guiding PrismND and, as importantly, those working to implement the larger pastoral plan issued nearly two years ago, are working hard to create a welcoming environment for our students while holding firmly to the Church’s teaching on sexuality. As I understand it, the Church’s teachings were given careful attention in the framing of this year’s event, and the event itself was intentionally detached from the national movement, including the choosing of a different date. The university takes seriously the teachings of the Church as we create an environment of welcome for all; those guiding our students are working hard to meet these challenges.

The Rover responded:

What does this [“welcoming] environment” look like, such that not hosting Coming Out Closets would impede that goal or fail to actualize it?

While the event was formally detached from NCOD … its execution was identical to last year’s, and it was executed only three days prior to NCOD’s annual celebration date, October 11 … [i]ts founders’ language was identical to the language used in years past to explain the event.

In what ways is encouraging students to publicly declare their decision to identify themselves with their sexual attractions consonant with Bishop Rhoades’s statement from last summer, that “unlike most of society, the Catholic Church refuses to define people in terms of their sexual inclination”?

Fr. Lies did not respond to the Rover’s follow-up inquiries. Inquiries sent to Erin Hoffman-Harding, Vice President for Student Affairs, went unreturned.

Contact Tim Bradley at tbradle5@nd.edu.

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