The University of Notre Dame’s LGBTQ community and allies are forcing a reckoning on the Catholic campus that mirrors the reckoning happening in the wider U.S. Catholic church between theoretical arguments made about the queer community and the lived experience of LGBTQ folks.
Earlier this semester, an incendiary clash between pro-LGBTQ students and conservative Catholic student organizations caught the attention of the Notre Dame campus and the wider Catholic community. The Observer, the student newspaper, published a poem entitled, “There’s Queer Blood on Homophobic Hands” by Notre Dame junior Audrey Lindemann. The poem suggests the academic and theological thoughts of conservative student organizations Young Americans for Freedom, Students for Child Oriented Policy, Sycamore Trust, and the Irish Rover (another student publication) contribute to the violence and hate experienced by the queer community.
At the end of the poem, a hyperlink connects to a video showing a student using a crowbar to destroy a wooden sign that reads “There’s queer blood on homophobic hands” with names of student journalists who have written on topics affecting the queer and trans communities circled in red paint. The sign also includes pictures of queer folks who have been murdered or who have committed suicide.
The student groups mentioned in the poem and video, along with other members of the Notre Dame community, have called the video and poem a vile attack and threat against students who uphold Catholic doctrine on human sexuality.
Though the poem was provocative and the video graphic, they deserve an audience. They protest against the kind of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric which is often shrouded in the language of conservative academia and defense of church doctrine.
Lindemann takes issue with Students for Child Oriented Policy hosting events and promoting articles about gender identity she and others see as transphobic. She takes issue with The Rover’s coverage of a campus lecture by Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in which he argued against including sexual orientation and gender identity in civil rights protection laws, a topic currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Her argument is that no matter how “civil,” “charitable,” or “reasonable” one is in the delivery of arguments that oppose equal rights and justice for the LGBTQ community, the opposition is homophobic.
Herein lies the larger debate. On one hand, we have conservative academics, theologians, and clerics who are making theoretical arguments based on Catholic doctrine, law, and reason. They say that they are merely defending the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics and nothing more. They have the privilege of delivering their arguments in reasonable, charitable, civil tones, all while denying equal protections and rights to LGBTQ folks. They are able to deny the homophobic consequences of their arguments because of their staid tone and their reliance on theory and tradition.
On the other hand, we have queer and trans folk fighting for their right to live and love in the real world. They are fighting to not be killed, to not be demonized, and to not be disenfranchised to the point of depression and suicide. They are fighting for the right to express their very identities—core to who they are as human beings. They are fighting to be loved and to love.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Though “There is Queer Blood on Homophobic Hands” is provocative and graphic, we are obligated to hear the pain, the anguish, and the isolation in its words.
What if, before we invited LGBTQ-negative academics, Catholics, and lawyers to civilly, reasonably, and charitably deny the queer community its equal rights and its right to life and love, we listened to Lindemann and the community she represents? And I mean really listen.
Do not ask the queer community to come and debate their existence using theory. Do not ask the queer community to come with a theological text justifying their right to full equality. Rather, ask the queer community to share what life is truly like for them, what the denial of equal rights means to them, what psychological and physical effects homophobic and transphobic arguments have on real people, what it’s like to watch your friends and loved ones die, what it feels like to be excluded from a Church that preaches love.
In a letter to the editor of The Observer, Notre Dame junior Maddie Foley, a lesbian Catholic, pleads with her straight Catholic family to hear the lived experience of queer Catholics before passing judgment on all aspects of their lives. After chronicling the self-denial she experienced because of her own misunderstandings of her faith, she addresses LGBTQ-negative Catholics directly:
“Please, in the name of gentleness and mercy, if you, reader, are still opposed to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church, choose your words carefully and remember that there are real, complicated, dignified, made-in-God’s-image people hearing them, people that you haven’t witnessed in prayer, people that have been wounded by the Church, people that love God, people who have wept and wept about their place in God’s kingdom, people who will be far more affected by your words about gay rights than you will ever be.”
If we start there, rather than with sexual ethics, theory, doctrine, or legal precedent, we might come to find that the suffering of our queer community–as well as the triumphs and beauty experienced–are more important than long-held and outdated beliefs about their identities. We might find the more fundamental Catholic teachings of dignity, equality, and the common good have more lived value than those of sexual ethics. If affirmation of queer folks is our starting point, we will remove the need for incendiary protest, and we may just find we remove the need for theoretical arguments against their fullness of their life.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, November 27, 2019