CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Offers Benefits to Same-Sex Couples, While Set to Host “Gay in Christ” Conference

October 25, 2014

University of Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame’s progress on LGBT issues has been a gradual process, but one that is making headway since the unveiling of the University’s pastoral plan in 2012. Still, recent incidents show a campus in tension on this path to full inclusion.

Last week, Notre Dame and its sister school, Saint Mary’s College, notified employees that benefits would now be available to same-gender spouses as marriage equality becomes law in Indiana. A university email obtained by the South Bend Tribune, said in part:

“This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses…

“Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

Notre Dame is one of the first religiously-affiliated colleges to observe the new law, as other Christian universities are refusing to comply with the latest court rulings. One staff member who is openly gay, Aaron Nichols, said of the announcement:

” ‘Being an out staff member, I feel a lot more confident that my concerns are being heard and responded to…The university is no longer acting in a vacuum…That makes me proud to be ND.’ “

However, not all members of the Notre Dame community are reacting positively. Aleteia reports that Holy Cross Father Wison D. Miscamble, a history professor, spoke with young alumni in Washington, DC on the topic: “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University.” He gave out Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’ personal email and encouraged alumni to write negatively of the decision.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend added his criticism, saying Notre Dame should have waited for a “study of what the law requires” so that Catholic institutions are not “compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage.” In response, President Jenkins said Rhoades was consulted before and after the decision’s announcement, and a University spokesperson defended Notre Dame’s decision.

Additionally, the University is set to host a traditionally inclined conference titled “Gay in Christ.” The conference, hosted by the Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center, will “explore how Catholic institutions can coexist comfortable with gay Catholics” and focus on pastoral outreach, according to Indiana Public Radio.

Institute director John Cavadini said the conference has been a point of controversy on campus, adding:

” ‘I feel like our imaginations get cramped. . . We get caught in ways of thinking and don’t allow ourselves to think a little bit farther and this conference is meant to help us think a little bit farther.’ “

However, the conference is not as open ended as Cavadini portrays it. “Gay in Christ” focuses on outreach to “self-identified gay Catholics who accept Church teaching,” and speakers are predominantly Catholics advocating celibacy as the only option for lesbian and gay people. In fact, a writer for Slate recently highlighted the conference and torturously argued that the path of celibacy could be a path for acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the Church.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered how dangerous and damaging mandatory celibacy can be for LGBT persons, the majority of whom do not discern that God is inviting them to such a lifestyle.

While Notre Dame is to be commended for the several initiatives it has made in enacting the pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the presence of such a conference on campus proves there is still work to be done.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Silences LGBT Awareness, While Georgetown University Raises Standard Again

October 6, 2014

The flyer which caused the film screening to be cancelled

The two largest Catholic colleges in Washington, DC, are making headlines over LGBT issues, but in differing directions. The Catholic University of America cancelled a film screening on the life gay advocate Harvey Milk over concerns that the film opposes Catholic teaching, while Georgetown University announced its plans to host an LGBT conference for Jesuit schools next year.

The cancellation occurred the day before the CUA College Democrats were set to host the screening, with University administrators citing concerns the event had moved from education to advocacy by including a rainbow flag and the words “LGBT awareness” on an event flyer.

Besides the film, the event included talks by politics professor John White and Montgomery County Democratic chair Kevin Walling, a 2007 alumus, about how gay rights affected the Democratic party. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux says Walling expressed his disappoint about:

” ‘…number one for how they treated their students, and number two, how they treated this topic…

” ‘This seems like a regression…The fact that the university canceled this event the day of is sparking an important conversation the university should have…and hopefully some good will come out of this.’ “

Students and alumni speaking with the campus newspaper, The Tower, echoed that disappointment. Alumnus Wesley Cocozello said:

” ‘CUA is morphing from a university into the propaganda arm of the Vatican…The administration has time and again silenced the voice of her students because they dare to ask questions or start conversations that don’t neatly and tidily follow the teachings of the church.’ “

Ryan Fecteau, a 2014 alumnus who led efforts for an LGBT student group, CUAllies, that was ultimately denied recognition [disclosure: I co-led the organization with Fecteau as an undergraduate], told The Tower:

” ‘As a CUA alum who is on the verge of being the youngest openly gay elected state representative in the country, I am disappointed to see CUA digress to a point where they once again send an unwelcoming message to LGBT students…In fact, the message that the University is sending students could very well impact emotional and psychological health, it is a message that really could impact someone’s life.’

” ‘This is not the kind of culture [we] should be trying to cultivate or even our Church…Everyone in the CUA community should be disappointed by this decision. I am.’ “

On a personal note, I attended the first iteration of this “Milk and Cookies” event in 2011 and remember the conversations that developed around the embattled life of Harvey Milk to be extremely generative. University administrators persist in their empty distinction about education and advocacy, which is, in my opinion, an easy way of disregarding this issue. Many Catholic institutions, educational and otherwise, have successfully entered into the complex realities of what sexual orientation and gender identity mean. By branding events such as this screening as “advocacy,” President John Garvey and his staff have written off the issue — and thus the real and present needs of LGBT community members — altogether.

I think the comments of gay sophomore, Steve Morris, who happens to be a College Republican, best summarize my own response to this pastorally-damaging situation:

” ‘I can’t help but think if Pope Francis — he of “Who am I to judge?” — were making this decision, there wouldn’t have been an issue about it at all.’ “

Following the pope’s welcoming and merciful tone, Georgetown University is choosing a different path than Catholic University. GUPride, along with Campus Ministry and Student Affairs, will be hosting the second IgnatianQ LGBTQ Catholic conference following up on a 2013 conference held at Fordham University in New York. The Georgetown Voice reports the conference of about 200 participants from Jesuit colleges will focus on forming Ignatian-inclined contemplative communities. GUPride president Thomas Lloyd says of the event, nicknamed “IggyQ”:

” ‘It’s really important that there is transparency among the LGBTQ communities on Jesuit campuses that allows the progress of one school to influence the actions and progress of another…It was sort of healing for students who felt as though there was no place for that part of their identity on a Jesuit campus.’

” ‘We recognized what Georgetown in particular could bring to this conversation…There are very few LGBTQ spaces that exist nationally to address this question … that’s why this conference is so important.’ “

This conference is the latest effort by Georgetown University’s students and staff members to deal positively with LGBT issues at a Catholic institution. However, this inclusiveness was not always the case as student Julie Tanaka points out in that same issue of The Georgetown Voice that announced the conference. She emphasizes a key point that the University is always a “living and learning community” that needs to be held accountable for growth, a lesson Catholic University students should keep in mind as they address the silencing of LGBT awareness on their own campus.

To lend your support to CUA students, consider signing the Change.org petition asking The Catholic University of America to follow Pope Francis’ lead and create a welcome for LGBT students. You can find it here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: College LGBT Rankings Rooted in Misperceptions

August 21, 2014

Writing the “Campus Chronicles” series for this blog, I frequently report on the good works being done at Catholic colleges to promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBT community members. That is why I was again disappointed at the absence of Catholic schools on a couple of 2014 listings of the most LGBT-friendly campuses nationwide.

The Princeton Review failed to include any Catholic schools on its most LGBT-friendly ranking, but did include two on the twenty least LGBT-friendly listing, those being the University of Notre Dame (#9) and The Catholic University of America (#12).

Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization, claims its listing of most LGBT-friendly schools is more comprehensive than the Princeton Review listings because it is conducted “for and by LGBT experts in the field of higher education” without a profit motive. Though the organization makes this claim and also expanded its list from top 25 to top 50 this year, noting more than 80% of participating schools improved their rankings, Campus Pride failed to include any Catholic colleges as well.

Last year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are Catholic colleges failing to welcome LGBT students and employees? Are they inherently excluded because of their religious identity? Are there too few Catholic schools to be considered?

First, let’s look at the question of whether Catholic colleges are just not LGBT-friendly. I do not believe this to be true. As with any large field of members, Catholic colleges’ and universities’ responses to accepting diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are varied. I admit problems remain within the church’s higher education efforts. Traditional campuses like my alma mater, Catholic University, have a ways to go regarding LGBT acceptance. More progressive schools have also encountered obstacles, like Loyola Chicago’s decision to ban same-sex alumni from marrying in the campus’ chapel after marriage equality was legalized in Illinois.

However, there are numerous examples where schools are making progress and I would like to highlight a few from the past year:

  • DePaul University, Chicago, which regularly hosts LGBT workshops and student groups, celebrated its longtime and s successful LGBTQ Minor program.
  •  Georgetown University’s LGBTQ student group teamed up with Campus Ministry at the Washington, D.C. school to help students synthesize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith.
  • Stonehill College, Massachusetts, warmly welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramick who dialogued with students and faculty at the Holy Cross Fathers-administered school about inclusion.
  • Boston College Law School students applauded the administration’s rapid and supportive response to anti-gay vandalism, transforming the damage into a moment of healing and education.
  • The University of Notre Dame, Indiana began implementing its new pastoral plan, forming a successful student group and hiring staff for its new LGBT resource office.
  • One of the first college athletes to come out did so with the full support of coaches and peers at Benedictine College in Kansas.
  • Gonzaga University in Washington State announced new policies regarding housing, bathrooms, records changes, and medical care that are more trans-inclusive.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, DC, welcomed its first openly transgender students last fall and they spoke highly of how students and staff alike have affirmed their presence.
  • The University of San Diego stood by students organizing an annual drag show that came under fire from conservative Catholic groups.

These instances are those which made news headlines, and yhey do not include the countless daily efforts being made by thousands throughout Catholic higher education to ensure all are welcome.

Second  is the question of whether there are just two few Catholic colleges to choose from and highlight. Again this seems far fetched. There are more than 220 Catholic institutions of higher education in the US, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Of these, New Ways Ministry lists more than half on its listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges. Though the level of LGBT inclusion varies, the examples above and these numbers broken down seem to show there are Catholic campuses to choose from for the Princeton Review and Campus Pride rankings.

So why are Catholic schools absent? I think the reason comes down to a specific misconception about Catholicism and how educational institutions function within the church. A common narrative is that the Catholic Church is anti-LGBT because of the bishops’ views, thus when conflicts in Catholic education arise it is easy to dismiss all those involved in the Church as anti-gay. Nuanced understandings of church as the People of God, teachings on conscience and social justice, and the reality that most US Catholics support LGBT justice are lost in broader public discourse.

What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities, like at Providence College, where a poor decision to cancel a pro-gay lecture became a teaching moment and led to growth. They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.

I doubt Catholic higher education is alone in being incorrectly understood, as other religiously-affiliated schools from officially anti-LGBT denominations are also absent. However, as I wrote last year, Catholic schools can have a tremendous impact on the lives of the more than one million students they serve:

“Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators. With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.”

I do not expect the Princeton Review or Campus Pride to change their listings this year, but in the future a nod to the many and varied efforts being made to create Catholic campuses where all are welcome would do the cause of LGBT equality a lot of good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


If You Can Teach, You Can Teach

May 14, 2014

Is the University of Notre Dame’s approach to inclusion instructive for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and other dioceses which have released teacher contracts targeting LGBT people and their allies?

One alumnus says yes, and the University’s example would strengthen Catholic schools, too. Josh Pichler, class of 1996, writes in The Enquirer“If you want to see how a Catholic institution makes the gay community feel welcome without violating its principles, check out a recent video produced by the University of Notre Dame.”

Pichler is referring to a newly released campaign by the school’s athletics department to end homophobia and transphobia, launched via a video last week and reported on by Religion News Service. The video includes athletes from each team at Notre Dame affirming the central theme, “If you can play, you can play,” and has athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying,

“Because the university values LGBTQ students in the Notre Dame community, as indeed it values all of its students, the university is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission.”

The video also features tennis player Matt Dooley, a Catholic student who came out earlier this spring. It was made in partnership with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to more inclusive athletics and founded by a 2006 alum of Notre Dame who has also worked with Jason Collins and Michael Sam. You can view it below or by clicking here.

So how can this campaign at Notre Dame impact diocesan teaching contracts?

According to Pichler, the University is an example of how Catholic institutions promote acceptance for LGBT people and, indeed, bolster their Catholic identity. He points out that Notre Dame’s video is, in part, an advertisement in the school’s efforts to capture top athletic talent. This is no different than employers recruiting high quality professionals, and Pichler writes further:

“The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is not a Fortune 500 company, but it has to attract talent and take care of its staff like any other organization. The archdiocese’s new contract for its teachers – which forbids public support of gays in any manner – puts many of its employees who have gay friends or relatives in a horrible position…

“Imagine you’re an archdiocesan teacher and one of your loved ones is gay, getting married and invites you to the wedding. Even if there’s ultimately no risk to your job for attending, how would you feel about signing that contract? How would you feel about your employer?”

Pichler believes that the new contracts, and any efforts which go against the acceptance of LGBT people and their allies, will deeply damage Catholic schools by turning away top talent, both teachers and students. To conclude, Pichler notes the irony that Notre Dame’s athletic director would not be welcome in Cincinnati’s Catholic schools simply for his participation in the “You Can Play” video.

As Bondings reported yesterday, one teacher, Molly Shumate, has already publicly resigned from teaching in Cincinnati over the contract and others have begun organizing. The archdiocese, as well as Honolulu, Cleveland, and Oakland, should follow Notre Dame’s lead and make their education policy: If you can teach, you can teach.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students Question Notre Dame’s Commitment to LGBT Inclusion

April 24, 2014

University of Notre Dame

For decades, University of Notre Dame students and alumni advocated to implement more inclusive campus policies towards LGBTQ people at the school. Many believed the 2012 pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” was a step forward, but now the University’s commitment is being called into question as a new, constroversial student organization, Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), has emerged.

The campus debate over SCOP began when the nascent student group launched a petition and hosted two events calling for the University to defend heterosexual marriage more explicitly.

In mid-March, SCOP co-hosted a panel discussion called “Marriage, the Church, and the Common Good.” It featured leading anti-marriage equality speakers, including Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. In April, the student group held a daylong conference to organize student leaders who oppose LGBT rights in Indiana and again included speakers from institutions such as the Family Research Council and the Ruth Institute.

However, students from both sides of the marriage equality debate have reacted negatively to SCOP’s presence on campus.  These students launched a petition which explainins their nuanced opposition to SCOP.  In essence, they state that they are more against the organization’s attack on LGBT people, especially in terms of parenting, than SCOP’s beliefs about marriage. The petition authors write:

“As a Catholic university, we acknowledge and uphold the church’s teaching that is not in favor of same-sex marriage. However, SCOP does not reject same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds in their club petition; rather, this petition takes issue with the University’s formal recognition of SCOP as a club due to the following: 1) SCOP’s incorrect implications that same-sex parenting is damaging to children – this blatantly ignores all empirical data in this field of the social sciences (summarized below) that actually indicates the opposite is true. 2) In ignoring this data, SCOP’s policy discriminates against all non-traditional family structures in a way that is in direct opposition of the university policy on diversity inclusion and message of love and acceptance…

By endorsing the SCOP as a club under it’s current specifications the University is sending the message that it is ignorant of the facts surrounding same-sex parenting and that it tolerates discrimination based on sexual orientation, not that we, as a community, embrace all people as created with dignity in the loving image of God.”

PrismND, the LGBT student organization started as part of the University’s pastoral plan, also opposes SCOP, and they released a letter which was published in campus newspaper, The Observer. Concurring with the petition that discussion over marriage is expected at a Catholic college, these students also object to SCOP’s perceived failure to respect the LGBT community.

About SCOP’s April conference, the PrismND letter noted that one speaker, Evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., commented that being gay is “becoming almost, if I can use the phrase, the flavor of the week.” He concurred with materials from sponsoring organizations that sexual orientation is a choice, one which he views as harmful. The Family Research Council’s materials insinuated that homosexuality is linked to child abuse, mental illness, and substance issues, and advocated reparative therapy, according to PrismND’s letter. PrismND leaders write:

“When the University of Notre Dame released its official statement ‘Beloved Friends and Allies’ more than a year ago…It called for ‘a safe and supportive environment for all members of the Notre Dame community’ and said that ‘the University deplores any offenses against that fundamental human dignity and calls for an abiding spirit of inclusion within the Notre Dame community.’…

“SCOP’s sponsorship of these [anti-gay] views during the conference stands in sharp contrast to the mission of the University and the Catholic Church to provide pastoral care to GLBTQ individuals. We maintain that the inclusion of these positions at the conference by SCOP is harmful to GLBTQ students and Notre Dame’s commitment to them.”

It is worth noting that SCOP’s introduction this spring came at the same time Indiana’s legislature was considering a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and this assuredly will not be the final battle over LGBT rights there.

Having attended a Catholic university where monitoring of speakers limited academic freedom and free expression, I am always wary of any attempt to curtail campus initiatives. At dozens of Catholic colleges in the US, LGBT groups and events are denied recognition because they do not conform to a specific and selective view of Catholic teaching. As a Church and as educators, it seems prudent to move away from linking every speaker, group, and event as an endorsement from the hosting institution. The University should eliminate anything which is overtly violent or hateful, but allow that which is distasteful or even offensive to both sides of a debate. Doing so would enable freer thought from students, which could foster more fruitful and open dialogue overall on a range of issues. And in an open dialogue, PrismND and their allies would defeat opponents of LGBT justice with their ideas. For surely the ideals of love and justice, of human dignity and civil rights, are far more persuasive than those used to defend discrimination and denial.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: USD Drag Show Draws Fire, But Is Really a Moment for Encounter

April 16, 2014

University of San Diego students at the drag show.

The decision by the University of San Diego (USD), a Catholic school, to host a drag show was controversial, catching even the Vatican’s eye. However, one professor there says there is much more to this drag show than critics understand and it should be a moment for learning.

“Supreme Drag Superstar III” was the third annual drag show at USD, hosted by the campus’ LGBT group called PRIDE and promoted as a “celebration of gender expression.” According to U-T San Diego, the show features “a brief academic talk on the history cross-dressing and information booths,” in addition to the costumed musical performances.

Two local attorneys, Charles LiMandri and Thomas McKenna, protested the drag show by writing to the Diocese of San Diego and the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican. The Diocese refused to comment and the Congregation turned down their complaint as it “lacks standing” for action against the University.

For its part, the University of San Diego has defended the show. Tim O’Malley, a spokesperson, said nothing about it violates Catholic teaching and stated further:

“We do not mean to demean our critics. Gender expression and identity, for some people, is not an area to be explored. For some people, that simply is wrong…However, the law of the church is silent on cross dressing. There no evidence that cross dressing is inherently homosexual.”

Emily Reimer-Barry, a theology and religious studies professor at USD, wrote about drag shows and transgender people in a post on the blog Catholic Moral Theology. She explains that each semester she invites a trans person to speak to undergraduate courses in sexual ethics in an effort to complicate and humanize what students preconceptions about the transgender community. While the post includes helpful definitions and suggestions, she also makes clear the importance of events like USD’s drag show, relating it to a transgender friend of hers, Jackie:

“Each time I hear Jackie’s personal story, I realize that Catholic parishes and Catholic institutions (like hospitals and universities) have a long way to go before all transgendered people will feel welcomed and included. I’m proud that at the University of San Diego we are trying to raise awareness of these issues in events like last night’s PRIDE’s Celebration of Gender Expression Supreme Drag Superstar. The drag show is fun as well as educational, and it helps students on my campus think more concretely and creatively about sexuality, gender, inclusion, and justice…

“For those who find such an event to be inconsistent with the Catholic identity of the university, I would suggest that to be church in our world today means engaging with the full reality of human experiences. It is a problem that so few people are aware of the terminology and basic facts about diverse expressions of gender identity.”

Furthermore, Reimer-Barry believes the drag show allows for self-reflection on how each person performs a gender identity and how we relate to our self in terms of sexuality and gender. This reflection helps with how we view the experiences of others, and “learn more about the diversity of God’s creation.” To conclude, she appeals to Pope Francis’ witness, writing:

“Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium: ‘Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God’ (no. 272). The pope reminds us that ‘A Church which goes forth is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.’ (no. 46). What powerful words in this context– What would it mean to have the doors of the church open to the transgender community? What would it mean to walk with students who are questioning their gender identity?…if the drag show helps GLBTQ students and their allies at my school to know that they are loved, supported, and included in this community, then we are doing something good and something special.

“I believe we need a much deeper theo-ethical engagement on these issues. The natural law tradition of Catholic theology invites us to reflect on human experience in order to draw norms about what promotes human flourishing; yet theologians sometimes collapse or confuse sex and gender, or we fail to include the life experiences of GLBTQ persons in our methodologies…We may think we have a long way to go, but a framework of listening and learning from the experiences of others will help us achieve much. This theology of accompaniment, like the drag show, can be a fun learning experience. And we can realize together that in the eyes of God each one of us is fabulous.”

Drag shows have previously caused controversies at Catholic schools and parishes, including in San Francisco and in New York. Thankfully, the University has defended the student-led drag show to promote awareness of the complexities surrounding gender and sexuality. What if other Catholic institutions, often so quick to shut down such initiatives, thought like Reimer-Barry and saw drag shows as an opportunity to see God in new ways and offer support to LGBT people?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of Notre Dame Athletics Closer to Full LGBT Acceptance

March 22, 2014

Matt Dooley

College athletics are rapidly opening to gay athletes, and Catholic schools have played their part in making college sports more welcoming. Two reports out of the University of Notre Dame (UND) reveal just how quickly change is spreading.

Matt Dooley, a senior tennis player at UND, came out as gay in an essay for OutSports earlier this month. He details his struggle, including a suicide attempt sophomore year when “Death was better than accepting — or revealing — that I was gay.” Dooley writes of a Catholic upbringing that was not vocally anti-gay, but made it clear being gay was problematic. Building upon a successful athletic career in Texas, he began attending Notre Dame, of which he writes:

“I arrived on the campus of Notre Dame completely aware of the conservative environment and what to expect. This institution’s religious affiliations and its resulting culture can be easily described as a pressure cooker for someone struggling with his sexual orientation. While I was excited by the prospect of playing and winning tennis matches for the university, I was beginning to tire of the mental burdens that are unavoidably associated with being closeted – burdens that are compounded for an athlete. Unable to entertain the possibility of ever coming out, I pushed forward and paid little attention to my worsening mental state.”

Eventually, Dooley came out to his parents and then teammates who accepted him with love, and finally to himself. You can read his full essay at OutSports, which is well worth a read. The South Bend Tribune reports that the Notre Dame community’s response to Dooley’s coming out has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Dooley is now involved with the campus’ “You Can Play” initiative, which seeks to make athletics a welcoming place regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender identity.

ESPN reports prominent Notre Dame voices have affirmed Dooley’s coming out, including Alex Coccia, student body president who led the movement for more LGBT rights at Notre Dame, and Ryan Sachire, the tennis coach:

” [Coccia:] ‘(The) question was: “Are you an ally or are you not an ally?” The question now is: “Why wouldn’t you be an ally?”…That seems to be the sentiment among students. The vast majority of students are supportive.’ …

“Coach Ryan Sachire said it has been business as usual with the team.

” ‘The guys have said, “OK, it’s part of Matt, it’s who he is, that’s great. We love him. He’s still a great teammate of ours and we’re going to move forward as a team and not think about it.” ‘ “

Brian Kelly

In a related story, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly spoke to the Chicago Tribune after National Football League prospect Michael Sam came out in a move applauded by many, including President Obama, Fr. James Martin, and even Cardinal Timothy Dolan (sort of). Kelly said he would welcome gay players on his team, even given the University’s Catholic identiy of which he said:

” ‘The university still is about embracing diversity…They necessarily don’t agree with homosexuality, but they certainly, in terms of teaching, embrace diversity. … That’s in who we are. I think the university would feel as though they are still embracing diversity and one’s personal rights. That doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with homosexuality.’

” ‘Now as it relates to the head football coach, it’s about supporting. It’s about putting together a locker room that creates an environment for that player to feel comfortable.’ “

The University of Notre Dame is the most prominent Catholic college to openly welcome LGBT athletes so far, but is not the first. Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas wholeheartedly supported Jallen Messersmith, a basketball player, when he was reportedly the first college athlete to come out last year. Yet, work remains before every LGBT athlete at Catholic schools can safely come out and echo Dooley’s words:

“I have also learned to value myself and accept my sexuality as something that’s neither good nor evil, but is just an essential part of who I am. I’ve learned to respect myself and expect it from others. I have learned to trust again and, maybe most importantly, I’ve realized that I am not alone. There are others just like me, combatting the same fear of abandonment and worthlessness every single day…

“I share this story in hopes of sending a single message to other gay athletes like me: No matter the circumstance or situation, you are never alone.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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