Don't color me surprised to hear that an absurdly homophobic comic strip was printed in the University of Notre Dame's student newspaper. It was one of the schools I was told to pursue at the end of high school, since I'm from Indiana, had good grades, and my mother was working at another Catholic college at the time. But the fightin' Irish never even got more than three minutes of consideration from me - its constant rating as one of the most homophobic schools in the country according to the Princeton Review - it's #5 this year (sign up required) - was the main reason I didn't consider it for more than enough time to look it up. While those college ranking are far from perfect, #2 most homophobic, where it was when I was a high school senior, isn't something that happens by accident. That's a rating a school earns.
On some level, I'm glad that this outburst shows people that Notre Dame is far from a gay-friendly campus, that young people are not universally accepting of gay people, and that national attention has been drawn to a problem that few people were really paying attention to: casual homophobia on college campuses. Students who are out in high school are unlikely to want to study there, students who are ready to come out in college often won't have the support needed to do so, and so the queer presence on that campus stays lower than is necessary to reach some sort of gay tipping point. Change will be coming slowly.
After a protest this week asking the school to update its anti-discrimination policy and allow a GSA to form on campus, the administration has flatly denied the need for change. That's their choice, and it can't be described as a mistake, as the comic strip itself has been described. They deliberately want to present themselves as an anti-gay school, a repressive environment to queer students who know what they are and aren't ashamed of it, so more power to them. It saves queer students the trouble of transferring later.
I wouldn't blame this entirely on Notre Dame being a Catholic school. Lots of Catholic schools in America are further along than they are. Georgetown, Boston College, even Notre Dame's sister school, St. Mary's, have GSA's and anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, according to The Advocate. Even though Notre Dame defends its actions with theology, those other Catholic schools all seem to have worked their way around it with no problem.
The incident has sparked protests and made people get more vocal. Even before the protests started, student Jason Coleman posted on TBP:
As this goes to press, a number of petitions are circling to amend the discrimination policy. Last year, they were able to collect signatures of nearly 20% of the students, faculty, and staff and were still denied. It appears this will have to go big if it is going to happen. Second, for any information regarding church teaching and homosexuality, please hop over to the Notre Dame Core Council for Gay and Lesbian students webpage. In my four years, I have never felt an opportunity as strong as the one now to have a true dialogue at Notre Dame, and there is strong reason to believe that all eyes are on us.
If these policies are going to change, those changes will have to come from within, from campus members putting enough pressure on the administration to give them an excuse to tell to their donors who are no doubt in favor of the school remaining as anti-gay as possible.
Perhaps it's for the better that this comic strip was printed. As many smarter people have pointed out before me, unless someone uses the N-word and goes around burning crosses, few people are going to label them racist. Just being against women's bodily autonomy isn't enough to be labeled sexist anymore - someone has to actually be saying that women should remain barefoot and pregnant. And unless someone starts using the word "faggot" and saying they want gays to die, people are reticent to label them homophobic.
Our culture focuses much more on racist, homophobic, and sexist language more than it does policy and actions. Do whatever you want, believe whatever you want, and act however you want, but just please, please, please don't use the word "faggot." Prejudice that spells itself out will get condemned, while discrimination that hides itself as something else, no matter how ridiculous the prom dress we throw on it, is easier to ignore, and therefore gets ignored.
The situation at Notre Dame is a good example. I'm sure straight people looked at the fact that they refused to include sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination policy as the school's religious beliefs, their theology, their tradition. It's not like they were saying that they want gays to get beaten with baseball bats or die of AIDS, right?
We aren't looking at the policy in the same light now after this comic was printed, but was it any more OK not to have a GSA before this comic strip was published than after?
Every now and then these people's prejudices bubble to the surface, making our work of calling them out for their bias much easier. It's not as hard to write off Fred Phelps than it is Rick Warren, whose homophobia is much more influential in policy-making and much more destructive of human life, but is still considered respectable enough to be declared America's religious leader by a Democratic president.
It seems like students and faculty at Notre Dame are taking advantage of this slippage, as they should be. The truth of that campus's homophobia has been there for a while, but it wasn't in a form that was easy enough for people to digest, so the lukewarm among them were able to ignore it.
On another note, that joke is so old. I'm just going to say that I am surprised that it took three students to write something that short and tired.