"It must have been so hard for you, why would you do that to yourself?"
That's usually the first sentence I hear from LGBTQ people when I meet them for the first time after telling them I graduated from Notre Dame. My first thought is always on the defensive, 'Notre Dame is a fantastic university and I don't regret my time there for one minute.' Instead, I just smile and say 'I didn't know I was a lesbian until my second year.'
Rewind to March 2009. I became close to a friend's friend who was visiting, who asked me 'So how long have you been gay?' I was shocked. Appalled. 'I'm not gay,' I thought. 'There's no possible...way?' I got off the computer and sat in my dorm room. I cried, I laughed, I reminisced, cried some more. Three hours later, it all made sense. All the little signs. My 'root' story from when I was 5 years old. Why I was so devastated when my best girl friends didn't want to hangout anymore. I ran downstairs into the room of my rectress (she was in charge of our dorm). I sat on her couch, shaking. She asked me what was wrong and at that moment I didn't care about the Catholic implications of what I was about to tell her. I told her I was bisexual. Her response? 'Oh honey, I don't want to upset you, but I already knew.' Uh what. But after venting and having her listen to me as I was 'discovering' myself for the first time - it was enlightening. She did more for me that night than she'll ever know, and I'll always be thankful for her kindness and trust.
Then came the hard part. Coming out to all my friends at school. I ran in different circles - business, marketing, boxing, Latinos, conservative Catholic etc. I told them all, and 80% of them said the same thing, 'Yeah I knew that already, so what?' Instead of feeling relieved, I was frustrated. I would respond, 'YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDNT SAY ANYTHING? I COULD HAVE KNOWN I WAS GAY EARLIER!' They would just shrug and say it was something they had surmised. Go Figure. Only one girl stopped being friends with me because of it; a surprising statistic. We had a screaming match about 'my sin.' Very public. Very ugly. But it made me learn how to deal with those people in the future. My conclusion? Don't deal with them. Don't get angry. Foster your feelings towards the positive, the majority of others who are on your side and love you. Plus, her loss. I'm awesome.
Being in a homosexual relationship at Notre Dame was one of the hardest things in my life. We were accepted amongst our friends. But walking down the quad holding hands, or sharing a kiss outside of a classroom - normal heterosexual couple actions were completely taboo for us. Intense stares while holding hands. Girls would look with disgust. Kissing her as I dropped her off at her classroom was met with gaping mouths and whistling. It was humiliating. The next semester, we made it a mission to stop caring and be in our relationship our own way. Screw the culture, screw the dogma. We were going to be happy and show it. Boy was it hard. Our gay friends saw what we were doing and applauded us. They kept talking about how we were the only 'normal out' gay couple on campus and how much they wished they had what we had. But to be perfectly honest, I was hiding behind a fake smile. Being the 'perfect gay couple' had taken a bigger toll on our relationship than I had imagined. Every day I would think about how much I hated myself for not being honest and how much I wanted out. But I didn't want to let down the community. I wanted to be a leader for them. I just didn't know how much longer I could take it.
My senior year of school, I decided to join the Core Council. Core Council is the only recognized collective of LGBT students combined with staff to serve LGBT students. It is not a club. It's the University's 'answer' to addressing LGBT issues. A committee that you must APPLY to be a part of. There are unofficial LGBT clubs on campus. These clubs have been struggling since 1997 to earn official recognition so they can get student funding just like every club on campus. The university turns their despair into a cover up: 'You have the Core Council, that should be enough.' Even being on the Core Council, I felt useless. I felt constantly stymied by the administration about what we were 'allowed' to do. The struggles are still being felt, even now that I've graduated and moved away from South Bend, Indiana. I still feel their struggle and try to help them in whatever way I can - to let them know that they're not alone in their fight.
My time at Notre Dame wasn't all marred by negativity. The majority of my time there was positive. I made a lot of great friendships and memories there. I also met a lot of amazing LGBT activists; fantastic individuals who are doing so much for the community and doing what they can for current students.
So thank you Notre Dame. Thank you for teaching me what discrimination looks like when it's not because of the color of my skin. I refuse to let more LGBT students on campus be affected by this. The 4 to 5 Movement and The Core Council are growing, I'm sure you know that. I'll always hold a special place for you in my heart. But it's time for change or you'll get left behind with a progressive student body who resents the administration. We need to move forward with the direction of change and keep fighting the good fight for LGBT rights.