Queer Groups Push For Changes

Gay CoupleUNIVERSITY OF TEXAS – William Lyons remembers the 10-minute bus ride that seemed to last an hour.
About a month ago, the openly gay University of Texas senior was waiting to board a campus bus about 11:30 p.m. to head downtown with a gay friend. Another student at the bus stop introduced himself and struck up a conversation with Lyons’ friend.
Lyons thought the student was being friendly until they all boarded the crowded bus and he spent the whole ride telling others that Lyons and his friend might be gay. Lyons said he was so uncomfortable that he hasn’t ridden the late-night bus since.
“It was the fear of not knowing what could happen,” Lyons said. “I was very much like, ‘I want to get off this bus.’ “
Student activists are asking university administrators to send out the message that such instances aren’t acceptable.
The Queer Student Alliance, an organization that oversees the 13 groups on campus that say they serve hundreds of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, released a report Wednesday to start a dialogue about how they can receive better treatment on campus.
The term “queer” encompasses all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“They’re not hearing a message that (discrimination) is not OK,” said Angie-Faye Brown, a second-year graduate student and co-director of the alliance.
Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said the university has always strived to promote tolerance but hasn’t always met the goal.
In the 192-page report, the students offer about 70 recommendations they say would help administrators make the campus more inclusive. Suggestions included domestic partnership benefits for faculty and staff and free HIV testing.
At the 11 other large public universities studied in the report, at least 10 services like these are offered. UT offers four of the services, according to the report, such as hosting a queer resource center and including sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination policy.
This is the queer community’s first systematic effort to make its concerns known to the university. The report is based on 127 queer students’ responses to a survey the alliance conducted in the spring.
Six graduate and undergraduate students compiled the report over five months, using information gathered at forums with queer students and in e-mail exchanges with queer student leaders at other schools to supplement the survey data.
The responses detailed some instances of discrimination from faculty and staff, such as a professor mocking a student’s tone of voice during lecture. They also included accounts of verbal and physical harassment from other students.
“The fact that this is happening to even five or 10 people means it should be dealt with,” said Ryan Miller, a junior and co-director of the alliance. The campus area “is not a safe place to be out on the weekends with your partner.”
Members of the alliance’s board of directors met with administrators to present the report a couple of weeks ago.
Vincent plans to meet with the report’s authors to discuss initiatives for raising awareness. He said the first step should be educating students through workshops and speakers.
Alliance members also will meet with university President William Powers Jr., who they hope will champion their cause as part of his message advocating diversity on campus.
“There are more allies to the community or potential allies who we can reach,” Miller said. “We’re depending a lot on students. You can’t legislate being tolerant.”
from The Austin American-Statesman

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