More than 1,600 students and staff at the University of Notre Dame and neighboring Saint Mary's College in Indiana wore T-shirts to show support for gays and lesbians after the school declined to recognize a gay student group. The bright orange T-shirts bore the slogan "Gay? Fine by me." "The shirt says it all. I don't have a problem with gay people. I have a lot of gay friends," said Rebecca Spohrer of South Bend, a Notre Dame sophomore who wore one of the shirts Thursday. Earlier this month Notre Dame's Student Activities Office rejected a request for formal recognition from the gay-straight student group Unity in Diversity. The university has turned down similar requests over the past two decades. "Not recognizing a student group is just another form of discrimination," Spohrer said.
Notre Dame officials said the school already provides educational programs and support on matters concerning sexual orientation. The university sponsors a Standing Committee for Gay and Lesbian Student Needs. The committee hosts monthly coffee get-togethers and support-group meetings as well as provides training about issues of sexual orientation for resident assistants and incoming freshmen. "It's a complex issue, and having students out on their own dealing with it is not the best way," said Brian Coughlin, director of student activities. "We prefer that students walk with faculty, administrators, and ministers in dealing with these issues."
Joe Dickmann, a gay Notre Dame senior from St. Louis, said Unity in Diversity was disappointed but would continue to work as an unofficial group. Without recognition, however, it is not permitted to share in student activities funds or advertise on campus. In the 2004 edition of The Princeton Review's Best 351 Colleges, Notre Dame ranked number 1 in the category of colleges where gay people are not readily accepted in the campus community.