UC Riverside Offers Gender-Neutral Housing For Gay, Transgender Students

Gay Sex
UC Riverside is one of a growing number of universities nationwide that has begun allowing men and women to share a room on campus.
So-called gender-neutral housing was created in 2005 at UCR in response to concerns expressed by gay and transgender students, who told university housing officials that they were uncomfortable rooming with students of the same sex. Now, they can choose roommates regardless of biological sex or gender identity.
Gay and transgender students can benefit from a roommate of the opposite gender, particularly someone they know, because they have an instant support network regardless of where they are in the coming-out process, said Cynthia Hurd, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based psychotherapist who focuses on gender-identity issues.
“It would take the pressure off,” Hurd said.
Typically, more freshmen live on campus at UCR than any other class. Of about 3,000 freshmen living on campus this school year, 24 opted to live in the suites. Each of the six suites accommodates up to eight students. So far, just one pair of roommates in the gender-neutral community are of the opposite sex.
“If living with someone of an opposite gender is going to make their transition to college easier, then we should have the option,” said Emily Sandoval, resident director of UCR’s North Pentland Hills, where the housing is located.
Currently, about 20 universities across the nation offer students the option. About a dozen other institutions, including the nation’s oldest campus, Harvard University, are considering it, said Jeffrey Chang, associate director of the National Student Genderblind Campaign, which started in summer 2006 to encourage gender-neutral housing.
Changing Times
The trend reflects societal changes as more men and women are best friends without being romantically involved, Chang said.
“It’s far different than 10, 20 years ago,” Chang said. “There’s a lot more interaction between men and women. I think college campuses are a huge symbol of where our country is going in terms of gender relations. They’re interacting on a more equal level.”
Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., is believed to be the first campus to offer gender-neutral housing, Chang said.
The campus has allowed any two people, regardless of gender, to room together since Hampshire opened in 1970, said Hampshire spokeswoman Elaine Thomas.
About 90 percent of the rooms are singles, but about a half dozen each year are occupied by opposite-sex roommates, many of whom are platonic friends, Thomas said. In some years, no one opts for a gender-neutral room. Each individual has to request the other, Thomas said.
‘Boundaries’ and ‘Respect’
Eighteen-year-olds Verenice Quezada and Erving Tu are the only mixed-sex couple living in UCR’s Stonewall Hall, which is part of North Pentland Hills.
Tu sat behind Quezada in trigonometry class at Workman High School in Industry. They became good friends who wanted to room together to help ease the transition to college.
Quezada learned about the gender-neutral housing option when she visited UCR, and she suggested the idea to Tu.
“We knew each other’s boundaries,” Quezada said. “We knew how to respect each other. We already knew what we were like.”
Quezada is gay; Tu is straight. The first person that Quezada told about being gay, even before her family, was Tu.
Quezada said that she did not believe she could live in a traditional hall with another young woman.
“I would probably have to hide it from my roommate for a while until I was sure she was OK with it,” Quezada said.
When Tu told his family that he would have a female roommate in college, their reaction was: ” ‘How did you do that?’ I said, ‘Because she’s gay.’ They said, ‘OK.’ “
Gay CoupleQuezada and Tu also share the experience of being the first generation in their families to go to college.
“If I need help with anything, I know somebody is there,” Tu said. “Having a friend is really helpful.”
Their rules are they can’t go through each other’s drawers and Quezada’s girlfriend can’t be on Tu’s bed.
Tu helps Quezada arrange her class schedule and is a good listener. Quezada brings Tu food and gives him rides home on the weekends. They also go to the computer lab and the dining hall together.
Tu, who grew up with six sisters, said he believes he has overcome his homophobia by living with gay students.
“I had some dumb, straight ideas about gay people, but I got over it,” Tu said.
UCR students say gender-neutral housing offers freedom that doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Samantha Hoover, 19, said she likes living in a hall where a student does not have to have a sexual identity. Dating is discouraged among hallmates, she said.
“It’s like a safe place for those who don’t identify as a gender,” said Hoover, a sophomore and the hall’s program coordinator.
She said the hall feels more like a family than the traditional dorm she lived in last year and there are no “little cliques.”
“This has become our home because maybe we don’t have the support from our families,” Hoover said.
Gay-Friendly Campus
UCR has a history of welcoming gay students.
Campus PrideNet, a national solidarity group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender college students, included UCR in “The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students,” a 2006 guidebook identifying gay-friendly campuses.
A campus resource center, inclusive housing options and activities targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students were among the reasons that UCR was cited in the guide, said Shane Windmeyer, the guide’s author.
UCR was the first college campus in California to have a professionally staffed Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, Chang said.
The center, opened in 1993, offers weekly rap groups, one-on-one support sessions, a lounge area and a library of books and videos. Since then, the center has grown from having one part-time staff member to three full-time professionals, said center director Nancy Tubbs.
Themed Dormitories
Transgender staff members helped launch gender-neutral Stonewall Hall in the fall of 2005 to accommodate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, Tubbs said.Stonewall Hall joined other themed halls including Mundo Hall for Latino students, the Pan-African theme hall established to promote unity among black students, and a hall for students in the honors program.
While most UC campuses offer co-educational halls, UCR is the only UC campus now offering co-educational rooms, said Jeanette Bradeen, UCR’s director of residence life.
“It’s OK and acceptable to talk about being a transgender student, or a lesbian student or a gay student. They feel like they can talk about these things here,” Bradeen said.”It gives those students a place to feel connected — they’ve got a common interest.”
from The Riverside Press-Enterprise

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