Two LGBT events at the University of Notre Dame are occurring in early 2019, signs that the campus is making further progress towards LGBTQ inclusion after the cause was stymied by administrators for so many years.
Last weekend, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, led an LGBTQ retreat co-sponsored by the Notre Dame’s Gender Relations Center and Campus Ministry. The retreat, which was also open to students at nearby Holy Cross College and St. Mary’s College, in South Bend, Indiana, was on the theme of “integrating sexual orientation and faith from a Scriptural and Biblical perspective.” Bishop Stowe has a growing positive record on LGBT inclusion, including providing Scriptural reflections at New Ways Ministry’s 2017 Symposium and affirming Pride celebrations in his diocese.
Elsewhere in the Notre Dame community, the organization ofGay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College (GALA-ND/SMC), will be honoring Fr. James Martin, SJ, with its Thomas A. Dooley Award. The Award “honors individuals who, through their faith-based background, have demonstrated personal courage, compassion and commitment to advance the human and civil rights of lesbian and gay Americans.” GALA-ND/SMC’s statement explained why it was recognizing Fr. Martin in the following way:
“Father Martin was selected from a wide group of candidates for his life-long dedication of helping others and through his impassioned work in creating visibility and a platform for greater acceptance of LGBT Catholics by the Catholic Church. Father Martin has called for a greater dialogue and understanding between the LGBT community and the institutional church. His tireless work over the past 40 years has elevated the importance of this issue to a level previously unseen. “
Also being honored during the March 30, 2019 event is Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana and now U.S. presidential candidate. Previous recipients have included Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, television personality Phil Donahue, and New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL,. For more information on the awards ceremony, click here. In 2016, New Ways Ministry presented Fr. James Martin with its Bridge Building Award; his speech at the ceremony became the basis of his bestselling book on LGBT ministry, Building a Bridge.
The alumni network has long advocated for more inclusion at Notre Dame, including hosting a major fundraiser to benefit the association’s scholarship program. But the LGBTQ retreat being led by a bishop is a notable shift for a campus where less than two years ago students were asking if the University was failing LGBTQ students.
Notre Dame has made progress regarding LGBT issues since its pastoral plan “Beloved Friends and Allies” was launched just over five years ago. In 2017, the University’s Student Government, along with several academic departments, welcomed the GlobaLGBTQ+ Film Festival to campus in October. Athletics staff have expressed their willingness to welcome LGBT athletes. There is now an LGBT student group as well.
Still, it took many years of students and alumni organizing for the pastoral plan and further developments to begin. And the University’s record remains mixed. By some accounts, progress is slower than students would like. For instance, in 2017, students protested Vice President Mike Pence being invited to speak, in part because of his negative approach to LGBT issues . While the University has hired staff to support LGBTQ students, it was also reported that safe housing was denied to a transgender student.
One last note is that in December of last year, a short film was released on the experiences of a transgender student at Notre Dame. To watch the film, click here [Editor’s Note: Some content may be offensive to readers].
This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2019