Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Campus LGBTQ Organizations Hit Their Stride

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Campus LGBTQ Organizations Hit Their Stride

Article excerpt

While most colleges and universities have LGBTQ organizations in some form or another, there was a time in the not too distant past when they were not so common. Just a few decades ago, many groups were underground, nonexistent or had to fight for their right to exist in the public sphere.

The history of LGBTQ groups and associations on college campuses is inextricably entwined with the nation's often repressive and sometimes violent treatment of LGBTQ individuals. Just as they did in the broader community, gays, lesbians and transgender individuals on college campuses had to make difficult choices about whether they would be out--and potentially be subject to violence and discrimination as a result--or hide their true identity.

Homosexuality was viewed for many years as a crime or mental illness, as it still is in some corners of the world. Illinois was the first state to decriminalize "homosexual acts" between consenting adults in 1962, even though the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973.

Recent victories, such as the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in 2010 and the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage in 2015, marked the culmination of years of activism and sacrifice to change these beliefs and norms. Changes such as these signal that the LGBTQ community is becoming a more accepted and visible part of the fabric of American life, but, nevertheless, there is much work to be done.

Over the years, faculty and staff LGBTQ caucuses, or standing committees as they are sometimes known as, have been instrumental in encouraging college administrations to create more inclusive campus cultures, protect sexual orientation and gender identity through non-discrimination policies, and recognize LGBTQ organizations and individuals as full-fledged campus partners.

According to Shane Windmeyer, director of Campus Pride, a North Carolina-based organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights on college and university campuses across the country, LGBTQ faculty and staff caucuses have been in existence on some campuses since the 1990s, often hand in hand with LGBTQ student organizations.

Having both types of organizations is the most effective means of advocating for change, Wind meyer says.

"Faculty and staff groups are important because they provide longevity, they provide institutional memory, and they provide an ongoing support mechanism, so that students feel supported," Windmeyer says. "But I always say that we have to have a team approach in order to be successful in changing things on college campuses."

The activism and personal sacrifice of previous decades paved the way for a safer and more tolerant nation today, but as many activists and organizers on college campuses will tell you, their work is still far from complete.

Coming out

When Dr. Karla A. Bell, assistant professor of physical therapy, arrived on the University of Delaware (UD) campus in Newark in 2008, after years of working and living in New England, she was surprised to find that the existing LGBTQ group kept their activities out of the public eye. At the time, UD's LGBTQ faculty and staff members met more or less in secret.

Their names were kept on a list by one group member, who would then quietly contact the group for get-togethers. "It wasn't a known entity at the university per se, representing constituents or the community in any way," Bell says. "It was more for social support."

Bell says she was initially puzzled by the apparent secrecy of the group's activities but soon came to learn that many, quite simply, were afraid to be open about their identities. "There was a very strong sense of fear for job security, fear that their identity would be held against them in some way even though the 2000s were a positive growth climate for our community in this country," she says.

Today, Bell is the co-chair of the UD LGBTQ Caucus, a group she has led along with co-chair Christine Grott, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program coordinator, for the past four years. …

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