In Response To The Anti-Gay Cartoon In Notre Dame’s Observer

First, a word from the president … of the University of Notre Dame:

The Jan. 13 issue of the University of Notre Dame’s student newspaper The Observer included a cartoon that was inappropriate and offensive.

“The University denounces the implication that violence or expressions of hate toward any person or group of people is acceptable or a matter that should be taken lightly,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president.

In accordance with Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion, a formal statement adopted by the officers of the University in 1997, at Notre Dame “we prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures” and welcome " all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality."

Further, “we value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community. We condemn harassment of any kind” and “we consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

The University respects The Observer’s status as an independent, student-run newspaper and appreciates that the editorial staff has issued an apology in its January 15th issue and that the cartoon’s authors also have expressed their regret. Notre Dame administrators will work with the Observer staff, as they say in their editorial, to “move forward, and….to promote…a culture of acceptance and support for all.”

In the wake of the publication of this cartoon, which has been widely covered in the media, all I could think was "here we go again." Certainly Fr. Jenkins’ words are welcome, especially when he says, “we value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community. We condemn harassment of any kind” and “we consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.” But as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame can only go so far.

Face it.

Please understand, this is not a slam at Catholicism. I do not believe Catholicism is limited to the Vatican, which many in the media seem to believe. All religions is local, to paraphrase former Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O’Neil. Church is what happens when I go to my parish and worship with my community. Our Catholic parish is open to all.

But Notre Dame is a bit more "on the map" than my parish is in the south suburbs of Chicago. As a Domer, I appreciate Fr. Jenkins words, but he needs to go much further. What does that mean? For that, I defer to Tom O’Brien ‘86, Michael August ‘96, Steven Saftig ’03, and Liam Dacey ‘04, officers of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (GALA-ND/SMC):

As officers of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (GALA-ND/SMC) for the past two years, we have encountered people on campus who disagree with us on many issues. What we have not encountered from the student body, faculty, or administration is the lack of respect evidenced by the publication of this hateful cartoon from other members of the Notre Dame community.

This is not a question of free speech. If the editors weren’t concerned with community standards, they wouldn’t have rejected the first version of the cartoon. No, the decision to publish it demonstrates a serious lack of judgment and lack of commitment to the Catholic belief in human dignity and stance against violence.
We know that the cartoon does not reflect the feelings of a majority of the people on the ND campus; and we have been heartened by many of the responses appearing in the Observer. But this will hurt the university unless it is clear that Notre Dame does not tolerate violence against any members of its community.

The author and editors seem to have missed the point of a Catholic education if they cannot see that LGBT students, faculty, staff and alumni are indeed members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s family and should be treated as such.

We make every attempt to share with people outside of campus the positive steps being made to improve the lives of the LGBT community at ND and SMC. Sometimes this takes convincing, even with our own membership. The publication of the cartoon is a prime example of why Notre Dame ranks first in The Princeton Review’s list of the most unwelcoming campuses for gay and lesbian students. The noise being generated by this will drown out any good news about the work being done by the students, faculty and Core Council. That’s not good news if you care about our university’s reputation.

The administration needs to take the lead in responding by holding panel discussions with the Observer, the faculty and the student body. GALA’s more-than-900 members are ready to join with the rest of the Notre Dame community in stating that the free flow of ideas can only occur if we respect each other.

Tom O’Brien ‘86, Michael August ‘96, Steven Saftig ’03, and Liam Dacey ‘04
GALA ND/SMC Officers

It’s time for Notre Dame to bring that respect to life. Fr. Jenkins and the University of Notre Dame Trustees need to step up.