100th Day of School: A Student’s Perspective on Bullying

Today marks the ceremonial 100th day of school for students across the United States. It’s an important day to mark the ongoing culture of bullying and harassment that persists for young people who are perceived to be LGBT in our schools and universities. In solidarity with the Safe Schools Action Network, I’m pleased to share with you the testimony of one young person who has been the victim of bullying.

The following was written by a student at the Catholic University of America.

Late one night during my sophomore year, here at CUA, I was asleep in my dorm room in Ryan.  It was probably around 3:00 AM when I awoke to several loud bangs on my door.  I heard several voices out in the hallway, all male, and they were all laughing and talking about me.  They yelled, “Yo, come out here faggot!”

I continued to lie in my bed; my heart was racing, and I didn’t know what to do.  Another male then said, “Yo, get the fuck out here faggot so I can beat the shit out of you!”  I glanced across the room to my roommate’s bed to see if he had woken up, but it seemed he hadn’t.

The group in the hallway continued to bang on the door as hard and as much as they could.  The hinges on the door were rattling and I was afraid that given the force with which they were hitting the door, the door itself would break at any given moment.

Then, the banging stopped and the voices were reduced to light giggling and laughter.  It was at this point that I could hear the guys outside my room writing on the whiteboard outside my door.  After a few minutes they began to bang on the door some more, screaming for me to come out there to see them, then the voices died down and then finally there were no more sounds in the hallway.

I was breathing rapidly, and it was only after ten minutes that I had the courage to get out of my bed to go over to the door.  I looked through the peephole and saw that no one was outside.  I opened the door and looked at my whiteboard and written all across it were profanities regarding my sexuality along with vulgar images of penises.

I called DPS and they responded and I filed a report, but nothing ever came of it.  I lived two doors down from one of my two RAs, yet neither he nor the other one responded that night.  Neither of my RAs were around that night, and as such, there was no one who could have responded right away to help me.  I felt as though I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, except for close friends, and that there was no one who could legitimately sympathize with me.

That night, I felt entirely alone.

Left Behind in 2010

[Shannon Cuttle is an educator, school administrator, safe schools advocate and trainer, community organizer, and policy wonk.]

This year will go down in history as full equality became one step closer for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adult community members.  From the historic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which will eventually allow openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve,  to full marriage equality in Washington D.C., to victories such as hospital visitation mandates for LGBT families nationally.

One of the biggest under-reported stories of 2010 affects a population who mostly cannot yet legally vote nor make a donation to a campaign or an organization, and most of whom still depend on an adult to look out for their best interests and in some cases save their lives:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth and allies.

In 2010 we saw bullying and harassment in schools and communities in Washington, D.C, Texas,  Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Massachusetts,  Colorado,  Virginia, Florida, New York, Michigan, Utah, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Louisiana, Idaho, Connecticut and California, and those were just the stories that we heard about.

In more than half of the United States of America in 2010, youth experienced bullying and harassment.

In 2010, we lost over 20 youth due to reported suicide from bullying and harassment. Keep in mind: those are only the reported cases. Across the nation, we were heartbroken and shocked to learn about many suicides due to bullying harassment, including Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Chloe Lacey, and others. The youngest student that attempted to take hir life from severe bullying and harassment at school was just six years old. Not every story made the news.

This year we also saw student heroes like Will Phillips, Constance McMillen, Ceara Sturgis, Paige Rawl, Graeme Taylor, Derrick Martin stand up and fight back after serve bullying and harassment at school. There are countless other youth whose stories have yet to be told about their struggle, strength, courage, and pain facing bullying and harassment in schools, colleges, and universities.  Over 150,000 students miss school each day due to bullying and harassment. And 9 out 10 LGBT youth experience bullying and harassment—especially given the advent of  Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. According to GLSEN, 40% of all youth who have access to a computer have experienced cyber bullying.

Youth in 2010 have faced not just bullying and harassment, but homelessness as well.  Up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and are struggling for food and shelter across this nation. Most of these homeless youth were thrown out of their homes or disowned by their families, left on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And even progressive advances such as the DADT Repeal Act of 2010 still do not address creating safe spaces for lesbian and gay youth in JROTC, young adults in ROTC, or cadets in our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities.

How are we truly providing high quality education if we are not providing inclusive safe schools?

In 2011 we must fight together to make safe schools a priority so that all youth—regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity (actual or perceived), socioeconomic status, disability or impairment , religion, immigration status, race, national origin, HIV/AIDS status, or any other identity—are free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.

What can you do?

Join the movement for safe schools in your local communities and stand up to bullying and harassment when you hear it, see it and take action. Help create inclusive safe spaces and anti-bullying and harassment polices on a local, state-wide, and federal level such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Make 2011 the year we invest in youth and make sure no child is left behind by making inclusive safe schools  a reality.

Get Involved today: Safe Schools Action Network, GLSEN, Make it Better Project, Project Life Vest, Operation Shine America, PFLAG, Trevor Project, It Gets Better Project, Ali Forney Center, GSA Network and your local PTA, LGBT community Center, classroom, school board or college campus.

If you need help please call The Trevor Help Line at: 1-800-U- TREVOR (800-488-7386)

LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education and the Potential to Make It Better

The new group LGTBQ Presidents in Higher Education seems extremely promising. While its membership of 25 depends on how long they each stay in their positions, the group’s momentum and potential are quite strong.

There’s something I think is unique about this group, or at the very least about the attention it has let itself get. I don’t think there is another group for higher education professionals that is specifically for individuals with queer identities. This might sound surprising. Both ACPA and NASPA have many LGBT-specific efforts and goals, and certainly it is no secret that most of the members of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals identity as queer as well. But none of these groups are specifically for LGBTQ professionals.

Another interesting aspect of the Presidents group is a willingness to be public advocates. One of my largest complaints about higher education is that we have this profession full of people who study and promote social justice in their work, and yet the field itself is so very insular and self-serving such that much of that potential for change stops at the campus border. The Presidents group, on the other hand, has made itself quite visible, and now they have also now produced an It Gets Better-esque/Coming Out video that I think is extremely effective.

While I know these university leaders have very busy lives administrating their institutions, I hope this is a trend that they continue. Higher education is a source of leadership and support embedded in our culture, and only good can from its professionals speaking out and trying to make a difference in society.

Read more about the group here and check out the video below:

Campus Climate 2010: Defining The Terms

As promised, I’m going to be reporting this week on the 2010 State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People. This new study is a tome of information about the experiences of individuals on college campuses but also an important guide to understanding campus climate research. I won’t be sharing all of its contents; in fact, I strongly urge any professionals out there who work with higher education to purchase your own copy through Campus Pride.

While this is a thorough research study, there is still valuable (if not crucial) data through its pages that demonstrate a sense of urgency for our whole society. Universities are often seen as liberal, welcoming environments, but this exhaustive study shows that for members of the queer community, the campus climate is often anything but welcoming.

I will be offering various posts about it throughout the week, but I want to start today with a primer for how this research was conducted. Because of its scope and density, it can be hard to approach, and there is a lot to be learned simply from the methods of the researchers. I hope this post is a helpful guide for understanding the results.

Overlapping Identities

What makes this study so complex is that the sample has a variety of overlapping identities. It’s not quite as simple as having one control and one variable. There are numerous variables, and aspects of the sample overlap in ways that can be confusing at first.

For example, the 5,149 respondents included undergraduate students (46%), graduate students (17%), faculty members (10%), staff members (21%), and administrators (7%) from campuses in all 50 states. That means that throughout the results, “respondents” does not mean just students. Obviously, the data is analyzed to control for different roles on campus; however, most of the results speak to all respondents’ perceptions.

Consider, then, the different intersections of gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity, and race and it’s clear to see that there are a lot of different overlapping groups. This is all important to understand for folks who might think that campus climate is only determined by students, or for folks who think there are only two discreet groups: queer folks and non-queer folks.

Campus Climate

It is obviously important to define the concept of campus climate, since that is what is measured by this study. There is a very detailed review of how climate has been defined as well as the different ways it has (and hasn’t) been studied. I think the Transformational Tapestry Model conceptualized by Rankin and Reason (2008) offers the best understanding of this concept. Campus climate is defined as

current attitudes, behaviors and standards, and practices of employees and students of an institution.

According to the model, there are six independent, yet interconnected areas that influence campus climate:

» Access and retention (i.e., includes access to higher education and provision of the necessary supports for success and retention)

» Research and scholarship (i.e., includes encouragement of diversity in educational and scholarly activity)

» Inter- and intra-group relations (i.e., includes diverse student body with educationally purposeful interventions and interactions)

» Curriculum and pedagogy (i.e., includes diversity education and proactive educational interventions)

» University policies and services (i.e., includes university commitment to diversity and social justice through response to harassment, and written and behavioral policies)

» External relationships (i.e., includes acknowledgment of and response to external influences in society and government)

When a campus climate is perceived as negative, it can impact students’ educational performance, attrition, and adjustment, as well as the personal and professional development and retention of employees.

In terms of sexual identity, there has been limited study of campus climates, and in terms of gender identity (particularly for those outside the gender binary), there has been virtually none. This is by far the most comprehensive study of campus climates for LGBTQQ individuals.

Sexual Identity (LGBQ) and Gender Identity (Trans and GNC)

One of the most interesting things about this study is what it reveals about how individuals identify. Participants were asked a variety of questions with the opportunity to open answer any of them. They were asked about their birth sex, their gender identity, their gender expression, their sexual identity (the term they use), and who they are attracted to. This was then coded to create two general groups.

In terms of sexual identity, respondents were grouped as LGBQ or Heterosexual. Due to a small number of responses, respondents who identified as “asexual” or “don’t know” were not included in analyses regarding sexual identity. It is interesting to note here that while 53% of respondents were gay, lesbian or similar, 12.3% identified as bisexual and 15.8% identified as queer. This might surprise some who are unaware of the way “queer” is growing in popularity as a self-identifier. It was a more prominent term for students (about 20%), but was also used by faculty (11.2 %), staff (9.6%), and administrators (7.5%).

In terms of gender identity, respondents were grouped as men and women, transgender masculine spectrum (birth sex female), transgender feminine spectrum (birth sex male), and gender non-conforming (GNC). Another interesting note here is that more individuals identified as GNC (8.1%) than as transmasculine or transfeminine combined (5.4%). This speaks to the same sense of ambiguity achieved by the sexual identity of “queer.”

It’s important to note that sexual identity and gender identity are two separate breakdowns of the sample and are not mutually exclusive. There are likely respondents who would fall under both the LGBQ and Trans/GNC groupings as well as respondents who only fall into one group or the other. This is important to remember when analyzing the results in regard to these two identifiers.

Intersections with Racial Identity

This study also looks at the interactions of race with sexual identity and gender identity. A bit less than a quarter of respondents identified as one of the “People of Color” categories, which included “African, “African American/Black,” Alaskan Native, “Asian,” “Asian American,” Southeast Asian,” “Caribbean/West Indian,” “Latin American,” “Latino(a)/Hispanic,” “Middle Eastern,” “Native American,” and “Pacific Islander/Hawaiian Native.”

Respondents could identify with multiple identities. I think it’s helpful to see the care taken to create inclusive categories for these identities, which is the only reason I reproduce them here.


I also want to offer the definition of the word “harassment” used by the study, as some may not understand the breadth of this term. Harassment is:

Exclusionary (e.g., shunned, ignored), intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct (harassing behavior) that had interfered with their ability to work or learn on their campus within the past year.

This is a slightly more nuanced definition from United States Code.

Forms of harassment revealed by the study include:

» Receiving derogatory remarks
» Feeling deliberately ignored or excluded
» Feeling isolated or left out
» Observing others staring
» Being singled out as a resident authority to their identity
» Feeling intimidated or bullied
» Fearing getting a bad grade because of a hostile classroom environment
» Receiving low performance evaluations
» Receiving derogatory written comments
» Being assumed of admission or hire because of identity
» Fearing for physical safety
» Being victim of a crime
» Being target of graffiti
» Being target of physical violence

What To Expect…

In the coming days, I’ll be writing with more detail about the study’s findings. Look forward to reading about what respondents are experiencing, what perceptions respondents have of campus climate, individual and institutional responses to campus climate, and potential best practices.

This is important research and I hope that my posts can make it more tangible for folks who won’t have access to the full study or who might struggle to wade through all the data.

If you have any questions about what I’ve shared so far, please feel free to include them in the comments.

Working Weekend Plus University of Rhode Island Student Protest

Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend the Congressional briefing for the new study from Campus Pride, the 2010 State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People. My original plan was to report on the briefing (pics below), but now that I have a copy of the 180+ page study in my hands, I’m going to pour through it and offer a more detailed report next week.

In the meantime, check out the courage of a group of students at the University of Rhode Island who have been protesting sing 12:01 AM yesterday morning until their administrators follow through on promises for LGBT support and campus safety. Matt Comer’s been doing some great coverage on the Campus Pride blog:

» Announcement of protest.
» Protest underway.
» Photos from the protest.
» URI blocks press coverage.
» Protest update and news round-up.

I wish the best for these students. They are advocating for their lives. Keep up the good work!

Here are a few pictures from yesterday’s briefing.

Angela Peoples, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Campus Progress:

Jacob Wilson, student at Iowa State University (and friend of the blog):

Have a good weekend everyone.

Pick: Kids Learn About Gays or Kids Kill Themselves

Ever since people first started talking about homosexuality, children have been used to support the fear and demonization of gay people. The message has only become slightly diluted over the past few decades.

Gays are pedophiles (the Catholic Church still thinks so). (Also still: Trans women are just men who want to molest little girls in the bathroom.) Gays want to kidnap kids. Gays want to recruit kids. Gays want to teach kids to be gay. Gays want to teach kids about gay sex. Gays want to teach kids about gay marriage. Gays want to teach kids that gay people exist.

Now, the last two don’t sound so bad, but they are always presented in a way to insinuate the old language. The message is the same: gays are evil and our kids are at risk. We’ve got to protect them!

Today we learned about a number of teenage suicides that were fomented by anti-gay bullying. Justin Aaberg of Minnesota hung himself in July. Billy Lucas of Indiana hung himself just last week. Both were 15. (Hat tip to Towleroad for reporting on each: here and here.)

It seems that students were relentless at tormenting Billy Lucas while teachers and administrators were oblivious.

According to WTHR:

Friends of Lucas say that he had been tormented for years.

“Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself.

“He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,” Hughes said.

According to WXIN:

Students told Fox59 News it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy’s mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself.

“They said stuff like ‘you’re like a piece of crap’ and ‘you don’t deserve to live.’ Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever,” said Swango.

Principal Phil Chapple doesn’t deny that students are bullied in the high school, but he said he didn’t know Billy was one of the victims.

“We were not aware of that situation,” said Chapple.

The case of Justin Aaberg reveals how school teachers can be so oblivious to gay bullying: because they’re instructed to.

As reported by WCCO, The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a policy that reads:

Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.

How horrid is that? A school refuses to teach about a natural part of human diversity and leaves it to the community to continue reinforcing all the negative messages that aren’t based on truth.

And will the school change its curriculum policy? No.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District said the curriculum policy and bullying are two entirely separate issues.

“It’s very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral,” said District Spokeswoman Mary Olson.

Remain neutral. A kid was harassed to such an extent that he didn’t think his life was worth living and teachers have to remain neutral to “respect families.”

Read it again. That is the world we live in. That is enshrined homophobia. That is a policy that represents fear motivated by demonization.

Incidentally, GLSEN today published the key findings of its 2009 National School Climate Survey. Here are some chilling numbers for you:

84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.

Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

That’s last year. Not 1985; 2009. It makes me ill just thinking about it. And what did the study find worked at helping reducing these numbers? In addition to having a GSA,

The presence of supportive staff contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.

Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.

But unfortunately:

Despite the positive benefits of these interventions, less than a half of LGBT students (44.6%) reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, slightly more than half (53.4%) could identify six or more supportive educators and less than a fifth (18.2%) attended a school that had a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.

What’s worse, we know that these numbers translate into higher education as well. A new study, “State of Higher Education for LGBT People” is being released this month that shows young people continue to experience harassment for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression on our college campuses.

83% of LGBT college students reported experiencing harassment for their sexual identity, with numbers even higher for students who were trans-identified. In fact, 87% of trans-masculine identified individuals reported experience harassment for their gender expression with 82% of trans-feminine identified individuals reporting similar harassment.

The problem here is that our schools aren’t educating. We aren’t willing to talk about what we know. Gender and sexuality are a part of who humans are, but we refuse to dispense uniform informed information to our young people. Out of “respect,” we prefer to let stereotypes and fear persist.

This is a crime against our society, and the deaths of Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg rest on the shoulders of groups like Focus on the Family who insist that sexual orientation not be taught in our schools.

So you get to pick. Do we teach kids about the realities of the world or do we sustain the ignorance that drains them of all meaning to live?

Consortium Responds to Virginia AG About University Non-Discrimination Policies

The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals has issued a response to Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli II, who last week advised Virginia’s public universities to rescind their non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

That I know of, the Consortium is the first student affairs organization to speak out in this way. I’m proud of my colleagues in the Consortium for leading a trend of higher education professionals who preach what they practice.

Here is the full statement:

The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, a national organization of more than 400 college faculty, staff, and administrators who provide support and services to LGBT students, strongly urges institutions of higher education throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia to maintain protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression in statements of non-discrimination.

The lack of inclusive policies place students who might identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT) at great risk, as discrimination against students, faculty and staff who are LGBT or perceived as LGBT is widespread.  A national campus climate study by Sue Rankin, entitled Campus Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective, found that 41 percent of the self-identified transgender students who participated reported experiencing verbal and/or physical harassment on their campuses.  Many of the transgender participants were not open about their gender identity for fear of being harassed. Similarly, more than one-third of all LGBT respondent experiences some sort of harassment. In the same study, 74 percent of respondents rated overall campus climate as homophobic.

As educators and administrators, we are charged with ensuring that our campuses remain a safe, affirming environment for all students of all identities. One of the most important signposts of an institution’s welcoming environment is their non-discrimination statement.  These policies not only provide tangible support to those directly named, but also send a strong message that discrimination will not be tolerated.  By removing sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression, institutions essentially signal that discrimination against LGBT students, faculty and staff is acceptable.

We hope you will reaffirm your commitment to serving all students by maintaining named protections for LGBT people in statements of non-discrimination.

In Solidarity,

Executive Board

Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals

College Athletics, LGBT Students, and Money, Money, Money

[UPDATE 2/24: Here, now, are articles from The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. I still don’t think any university has actually spoken out about this issue. Are they afraid acknowledging they even might have gay athletes (they do) would affect recruitment?]

Here’s a question for you: What is the purpose of college athletics?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but I’m willing to bet it changes depending on who you ask. I also bet that you won’t get an honest answer from everyone you ask. Books can (and have) been written on the topic, so I’m not going to dwell on it, except to say that we cannot deny that “money” is an answer that would come up a lot.

I’d offer that any time universities are represented or showcased in any way, those representations should honor those universities’ values and the support they offer their students. I’d like to think that a university who has made a commitment to protecting its LGBT students from discrimination would then abstain from being represented in any way that compromises that commitment. Otherwise it’s an empty promise.

With that context, let’s consider the news Pat Griffin broke this week. (If you don’t know Pat, she is a wonderful advocate for LGBT athletes.) On her blog yesterday, she pointed out that the NCAA is complicit in allowing Focus on the Family to run ads during CBS’s coverage of the upcoming Men’s Basketball Tournament. Such ads, spouting the same “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life” message from the Superbowl Tim Tebow commercial, are already appearing on the NCAA’s website.

Jeremy Hooper reminds us why Focus on the Family is a serious concern. They are virulently opposed to homosexuality and a woman’s right to choose. Jeremy did a search and found a ton of hurtful ex-gay propaganda on the FOF page. He also found that the top four headlines on FOF’s Citizenlink this morning were ALL about LGBT issues.

Pat sums it up nicely as she expresses her outrage:

Focus on the Family is a right-wing Christian political organization that not only opposes a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, they also are one of the most powerful national opponents of civil rights for LGBT people. You can bet they are in the forefront of every national and state battle over LGBT rights and abortion rights. Now they want to impose their values on the NCAA tournament and college basketball fans and the NCAA and CBS are inviting them to. They are rolling out the red carpet and I am deeply offended by the NCAA’s complicity in this.

And Pat doesn’t hedge on exactly what this means:

This is an outrageous slap in the face to every LGBT person and their allies in athletics and to all other people who believe in a woman’s right to choose who are associated with the NCAA.

I couldn’t agree more.

Pat went on, this afternoon, to show just how flagrantly these ads violate the NCAA’s Advertising and Promotional Standards. Meanwhile, friend of the blog Sean Chapin had started a Facebook group to rally support and get folks to contact the NCAA.

We learned this afternoon that the FOF ads have been pulled from the NCAA website. This is a great success, but I doubt this issue has seen its end. Focus on the Family will still be eager to include its television ads during March Madness.

Perhaps the drama is over for the day, but my question is: where was higher education? There was not a peep on The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed today (maybe blogs still aren’t seen as legitimate contributions?). I didn’t hear of any schools adding to the protest. Were they not concerned about the impact FOF would have on their students?

So what is the role of college athletics? Today’s events suggest schools are not particularly concerned about the impact of athletics on students. It was up to bloggers and LGBT activists to respond. It’s disconcerting to think (or realize) just to what extent the money is taking priority.

If a whole bunch of universities put out statements this week denouncing FOF and their ads, I’ll stand corrected. Until then, I’ll keep wagging my finger.

Care about LGBT students or don’t care, universities. You have a choice.

University Claims GSA Is “Parochial and Self-Serving”

When members of a proposed gay-straight alliance at Lindenwood University in St. Louis met to discuss their group’s application, university administration told them it was unacceptable because they were only thinking of themselves:

“It was too narrow in scope,” [Vice President of Human Relations Richard] Boyle says in a video recording of the meeting. Groups “have to serve an educational purpose with a breadth and scope that everyone within the university can be a part of.”

Two weeks ago, Kerry Cox, director of student activities, had rejected the group’s application:

“The rationale for organizing the club does not meet either our educational or our social service criterion for approval,” Cox said in his letter. “Rather, its principal purpose appears to be the support and promotion of a particular lifestyle.” Cox also said the GSA “does not coincide with the traditional values of Lindenwood University.”

Uh-oh. It’s never a good sign when you hear the L-word. You know… “lifestyle.” “Traditional values” is icing on the cake of prejudice.

He went on to say that the GSA application is “rather parochial and self-serving. It doesn’t offer a benefit to the campus community. Lindenwood University would like the members of the organization to consider a social justice alliance that could deal with race, religion, sexual orientation and other issues that face frequent scrutiny.”

The university wants to tell a group of marginalized students how to advocate for themselves? Am I the only one who sees the irony here?

And since when are an improved campus climate and increased awareness about identity development not benefits to a campus community?

If that weren’t disappointing enough, check out the “solution”:

» The group’s title cannot include “sexual orientation.”
» The group’s mission must be expanded to include “other students in need of understanding and support.”
» This means the group must also represent students with disabilities and whoever else falls into that vague category.

Essentially, Lindenwood said that LGBT students weren’t marginalized enough on their own, so their only choice was to represent all marginalized students. Except students of color, I guess? They aren’t even mentioned in the article. But hey, there are seven different Christian groups on campus. Double standard much, Lindenwood?

I think this approach is offensive on many levels. First and foremost, it highlights the very need for an organization just for LGBT concerns. Second, it adds to the marginalization of students with disabilities! Check out this quote!

Boyle said he added the disabled as one of the groups because “we don’t have that many disabled students on our campus. Why not bring them into the group so they can feel they are a part?”

Aside from not knowing the most appropriate language to address students with disabilities, he just wants to throw them in there? How patronizing. I have to agree with my friend and colleague, Shane Windmeyer:

“They’re being told they can have a club, but they have to be in it with all the other marginalized groups,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a nonprofit that helps with programs and services for gay college groups across the country. “It basically says you’re not important enough to have your own club.”

This is all absurd. And in this case, the university isn’t even (explicitly) affiliated with a religious organization. It sure seems to act like one. This is a blatant application of prejudice with little appreciation for social justice values or identity development.

To the queer students and allies at Lindenwood: Congratulations on getting your organization! Despite the bizarre compromises you had to make to get recognized, do everything you can now to fulfill your original intent. Your university needs all the support it can get to improve awareness and campus climate around LGBT issues. Don’t hold back. The work has just begun.

Talking About LGBT Issues at Faith-Based Institutions (#CC10)

Wow! What a great day I’ve had connecting with my colleagues in the Consortium of LGBT Higher Education Resource Professionals! Our day-long institute is always a great way to recharge and connect with other folks who get this kind of work.

I want to highlight one of the discussions I was able to participate in about working with LGBT issues at faith-based institutions. There were a number of folks in the room who work at such schools, while some others worked at public schools that feel like religiously-affiliated schools, and others (like myself) were just interested in the topic.

There were a lot of different opinions but a lot of great ideas, and the group gave me permission to write about some of our discussions.

A lot of the conversation was focused on how we frame discussions with students who have anti-gay religious beliefs. It doesn’t work to just say “Your beliefs are wrong,” so we have to find ways that allow them to feel welcomed to the conversation, but so that the conversation still allows for challenge and good critical dialogue. Different tactics might need to be used for different organizations, different leaders, and different ministries.

There are some great ways to approach these groups. One of the ideas I really appreciated is engaging in “conversations about how [a person’s] faith affects others.” As one of my colleagues pointed out:

Everyone believes human dignity is important.

It’s all about creating common ground. With the diversity of worldviews, consensus is an unrealistic goal, but common ground is a great starting point for progress.

It’s also not helpful to have the conversation on theological grounds. One of my colleagues works at a Jesuit institution, and she uses the Jesuit idea of the “wholeness” of humanity to appeal to the care of others. We can encourage students to include LGBT people without challenging church doctrine.

Part of this is thinking about stretching vs. straining but also helping others relate perspective. For example, if a religious group suggests it’s too much of a stretch for them to tolerate LGBT folks, then maybe it’s also a stretch for us to tolerate them in the same way. This helps frame the discussion toward finding that common ground of human dignity.

At the same time, it can be important at some schools to set pretty clear expectations about what is acceptable. One of my colleagues spoke to the ally training she does and some of the clear limits she sets, such as indicating that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not an acceptable compromise. Another of my colleagues spoke to exploring the elasticity of religious laws and variations on interpretation. He made the point that no one could live 100% under Islamic doctrine, so at some point some moral relativism and secular reasoning kicks in. Others pointed out that the voice of the Vatican is not very representative of what most Catholics believe or practice.

Of course, we also remembered that it is possible to be gay and have faith! We can work with religious students to help them understand that many of their queer peers might still be seeking out that faith and community the same as anyone else.

For me, as an atheist who often offers staunch challenges to religiously-affiliated institutions, it was really enlightening to hear all the different ways people are still working in those environments to promote queer equality. Often times the ideal is not practical, but we must all still work towards what we can accomplish in our given circumstances.

This was only one little session from the day. I can’t wait to see what else I will learn this weekend. It truly is a remarkable place to be. It’s actually refreshing to be squeezing in time to write to give my voice a break!

More Creating Change updates to come!