SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Last year, the Princeton Review's annual survey of American colleges ranked the University of Notre Dame the most unfriendly to homosexuals. This week, the school's library is the site of the first ND Queer Film Festival.
"You have to understand what a breakthrough this is," said Richard Friedman, a fifth-year student participating in the event. "The university's administration had even barred gay groups from advertising in the student newspaper."
On many campuses, eyebrows wouldn't be raised by a gay film series.
That is not the case at universities affiliated with a religious denomination that considers homosexuality sinful.
Yet even at some such schools, things are changing quickly, given society's increasing acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
"This film fest is our way of forcing people to recognize there is an active gay community here," said Liam Dacey, a Notre Dame senior. "There's been a fear on this campus to come out."
Films in the series include "The Opposite of Sex," a gay-straight-gay love triangle, and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the story of a transgender rock star.
The cost of the ND Queer Film Festival -- $12,000 to $15,000 -- is being borne by GALA-ND/SMC, an organization of gay and lesbian alumni of Notre Dame and its sister school, St. Mary's College. GALA has more than 850 members.
Some gay grads look back on their Notre Dame experiences with anger and memories of pain -- among them Don Roos, the festival's featured speaker.
He went on to a Hollywood career, writing and directing films such as "The Opposite of Sex," "Bounce" and "Happy Endings."
"I'm only doing this for the kids there, to show them there's an alternative," Roos said. "I've never contributed to Notre Dame in any way, because in my years it was such a repressive place."