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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

GALA Awards honor Mayor Pete Buttigieg, leaders within LGBTQ community

The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC) awarded their biannual LGBTQ Leadership Awards Saturday evening to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Notre Dame law alumnus John Sullivan and Fr. James Martin.

Since 1996, GALA — independent from the University and College — has awarded honors to members of the community through a nomination and voting process, Bryan Ricketts, vice chair of membership of GALA, said.

Ricketts said Buttigieg — who has been the mayor of South Bend since 2012 and has recently launched a presidential exploratory committee for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination — was chosen before he grew in prominence due to his committee. Buttigieg received the Larry Condren Distinguished Service Award at the ceremony for his leadership and service to the community, according to the press release for the event.

“I was on campus when he wrote a letter in the newspaper coming out, and I was on campus in 2012 when we were just fighting to even have a group, so it was good to have someone out and proud in the community, and be able to look to that person as an example that you can come to South Bend, Indiana, and still be out and a public servant,” Ricketts, a 2016 and 2017 alumnus of the University, said.

Buttigieg, who attended Harvard as an undergraduate, said the climate for LGBTQ students has improved since he was in college, but there is still work to be done.

“I think it’s improved, but I don’t think we are there yet,” he said. “You can tell by talking to young people — especially with the uncertain environment nationally — that a lot of people still feel vulnerable. But I also think organizations and events like where we are tonight, and a general rise in the tide of acceptance has helped us move in the right direction.”

Buttigieg, a South Bend native who grew up with parents who were Notre Dame professors, spent time on the University’s campus while growing up and said he can see the campus climate has changed.

“It was still edgy to even acknowledge the idea of acceptance for the LGBT community,” Buttigieg said. “Now I think it’s more the University — sometimes a little haltingly — trying to do the right thing. So there’s no question that there has been progress. Even just the breakthrough of even having an organization on campus recognized — better late than never — shows you that there’s a trajectory here. I wish the clock was ticking a little faster than it has been, but I do think you have a lot of people here who want to do the right thing … As long as we can beckon people rather than drag them into the right place, then I think we stand a very good chance of this University community eventually becoming a leader in this respect.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was honored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s on Saturday, along with Fr. James Martin and Notre Dame law alumnus John Sullivan.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was honored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s on Saturday, along with Fr. James Martin and Notre Dame law alumnus John Sullivan.

Although he sees change occurring in the community, Buttigieg said the University administration could do more to increase acceptance and referenced a lack of inclusivity of sexual and gender identity in the University’s non-discrimination clause.

“Certainly when it comes to non-discrimination policies on campus there is some work to be done,” he said. “Some of its more intangible — not as much about policy, but about culture. That’s where I think the involvement and visibility of groups like this — students and alumni making clear who they are and being vocal and building bridges — can really turn the tide.”

Ricketts said he believes the University’s lack of a non-discrimination clause hurts both staff and students. He also said the University has not been responsive to bringing a transgender speaker to campus.

“We don’t have a non-discrimination clause, which has been an issue since the 1980s when the people who started this group were fighting for it,” Ricketts said. “So there are no legal protections for people who are LGBTQ. I know for a fact there are people who were not able to advance in their careers here as faculty members. It’s not just about the students, it’s about being able to belong at the University regardless of your sexual identity. We definitely have a long way to go for transgender students. As long as I’ve been here, since 2012, we’ve wanted to have a transgender speaker on campus. But it’s been communicated, perhaps not verbally, but it’s been made clear that that’s not welcome — at least not without repercussions.”

Ricketts said other policies the University has enacted, such as the six-semester housing policy, have created a barrier for LGBTQ students.

“I was a member of Duncan Hall for many years, and I loved both of my rectors,” he said. “They are wonderful people, but I didn't really have a home in Duncan. I had to find that somewhere else, and I think that’s true for a lot of students that are marginalized … To ask those students to stay an extra year is harmful to the community, and that’s exactly the opposite of what their goal was.”

John Sullivan, a 1983 alumnus of Notre Dame law, received the Distinguished Alumni Award for his work in law and advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community, according to the press release.

Sullivan works in corporate law and serves on nonprofit boards such as the Human Rights Campaign, which works to promote corporate law equality, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which works to address hate crimes through advocacy and legislation.

“One of the things with good legislation is that it allows people to have conversations,” Sullivan said. “It’s not going to change everyone’s mind, but it gives you at least a little bit of comfort and safety in that you can have those conversations in an environment that might be a little bit more safe.”

Buttigieg, as a resident of Indiana — one of five states without hate crime legislation — said he hopes Indiana will soon pass hate crime legislation, perhaps through a bipartisan effort.

“It’s pretty embarrassing for us to be just one of five states in the country that lacks meaningful hate crime legislation,” Buttigieg said. “The encouraging thing is that a lot of people — from Democratic legislators to a Republican governor — recognize that this needs to change. I am disappointed that the legislature has not been able to fix this yet, but I think as we keep organizing we will see improvement there.”

Sullivan said resistance from some in the Catholic community may be a result of a lack of understanding and an urge to read the Bible in a certain way that is harmful to the LGBTQ community.

“A lot of it is a lack of understanding,” Sullivan said. “Once people get to know [members of the LGBTQ community], they realize how lives are pretty much the same as theirs. For us to be willing to share that, we have to be out and be willing to listen to where their concerns are.”

Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, an author and was appointed by Pope Francis to be a consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications in 2017. Martin received the Thomas A. Dooley Award for his work in creating a platform of acceptance for LBGTQ members of the Catholic Church, according to the press release. He was unable to attend the ceremony and instead sent in a pre-recorded video message accepting his award.

In his acceptance speech, Martin said LGBTQ people are still marginalized in the Church, and one way to mend that relationship is through getting to know each other.

“As you know, LGBTQ people are the most marginalized group in the Catholic Church today,” Martin said in his message. “In some ways, they are treated almost like lepers in some dioceses, parishes and schools … In my experience what can help that is simply for people to get to know each other. Nothing is as transformative as encounter.”

Ricketts said there is a way to reconcile the Catholic Church’s belief and attending Notre Dame with being LGBTQ.

“I came here knowing I was gay because I still felt a sense of community,” Ricketts said. “I felt connected to the Catholic campus and the sense of justice. Tonight’s prayer before we start is one of Fr. Hesburgh’s — ‘For those who are hungry, let them have bread, and for those who have bread let them hunger for justice’ — and I think that sense of purpose on the campus is meaningful. Anyone who feels drawn to that, whether they are LGBT or not, should have a home here.”

Ricketts said the ability to have the GALA Leadership Awards is something that would not have always been able to occur, and he is thankful to the people at the University who has supported the LGBTQ movement.

“We are very grateful to be able to hold this event on Notre Dame’s campus — that wasn’t always possible — and we are very grateful for the people from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s who have helped us pull this off in the past,” he said. “Even though policies aren’t as welcoming as they should be doesn’t mean there aren’t welcoming people here at the University in administrative positions.”