by Jessica Carreras
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – An anti-gay cartoon run in the Jan. 13 edition of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College’s independently-run newspaper, The Observer, has caused a backlash from students and LGBT advocates, resulting in a published apology and the resigning of the paper’s assistant managing editor.
The comic, published under the name The Mobile Party and co-written by Notre Dame students Colin Hofman, Lauren Rosemeyer and Jay Wade, posed the question “What’st the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?”
The cartoon’s answer, “A baseball bat,” has led many to believe that both the minds behind The Mobile Party and Observer staff are condoning violence against LGBT people. Specifically, that a baseball bat should be used to beat a gay person until they are in a vegetative state.
A call for action was immediately sent out to LGBT outlets across the nation by concerned students, including 32-year-old graduate student and queer ally Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, who contacted Between The Lines about the cartoon. “This cartoon represents hate speech, plain and simple,” Choi-Fitzpatrick said, lambasting the paper of the traditionally Catholic university. “Any hate speech should be reprehensible to Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians and non-believers alike.”
Choi-Fitzpatrick went on to suggest that the university should “sever all ties” with The Observer and disassociate itself with bigotry in all forms.
Repercussions from what Observer Editor in Chief Jenn Metz has called a “mistake” have already begun to take place. On Jan. 15, both the editorial staff and The Mobile Party writers issued an apology in the paper.
“The Observer, through an independent newspaper, is representative of the community of the University of Notre Dame and the values it so cherishes: family, understanding, service respect and love,” the staff published in its editorial. “Allowing this cruel and hateful comic a place on our pages disgraced those values and severely hurt members of our Notre Dame family.”
Mobile Party writers contended that though their comic was certainly hurtful, it was actually trying to poke fun at the absurdity of homophobia and baseless hate. “We consistently try to write comics that rely on shock value and now that we have gone too far, we realize that we have abused the privilege,” Hofman, Rosemeyer and Wade wrote, adding that “poking fun at someone’s identity in such a discriminatory manner is not funny.”
Past Mobile Party cartoons – both accepted and rejected by Observer editorial staff – have caused similar stirs among students, though none as extreme as with the anti-gay cartoon. Past comics have made light of such issues as racism, swine flu, overweight women and rape.
Moreover, the original version of the Jan. 13 cartoon answered the fruit-to-vegetable question with a possibly even more politically incorrect answer: AIDS.
Several who wrote to The Observer following the publication of the re-written version noted that it was absurd for staff members to nix the AIDS version but OK the version of the cartoon advocating violence against gay people. “This is not a question of free speech,” wrote the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. “If the editors weren’t concerned with community standards, they wouldn’t have rejected the first version of the cartoon. … the decision to publish it demonstrates a serious lack of judgment.”
Several responses went beyond that, contending that such actions effectively furthered violence and hate. “Getting a cheap laugh at the expense of the abused, bashed, disabled, and even murdered not only belittles these horrific experiences, but encourages more violence,” wrote professor of Sociology Daniel J. Myers.
“Opening up my acceptance letter to Notre Dame was one of the proudest moments of my life,” wrote freshman Patrick Gilbert. “But the violent, hateful comic … represents the complete opposite of what I thought this university stood for. I’m now ashamed to be a Notre Dame student.
“I can’t begin to fathom how hard it is for members of the LGBT community to live at Notre Dame.”
Members of the Core Council, Notre Dame’s organization for LGBT students, chimed in as well, noting that they appreciated the apologies, but adding that the school needs to “acknowledge the serious nature of the violent message of this ‘comic strip’ and its complete disregard to the dignity of GLBT persons.”
Other actions stemming from the cartoon’s printing included a statement released by Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins condemning expressions of hate at the university, as well as the discontinuing of Mobile Party comics in The Observer and on the group’s blog, plus the resigning of Observer Assistant Managing Editor Kara King on Jan. 17.
“I was the final one to check the paper that night and am accountable for all of its’ content,” said King, who chocked up the printing to a “miscommunication between herself and another editor.”
“I cannot begin to quantify the humiliation in knowing that it is, ultimately, my fault.”