LGBT College Life: The Good, The Bad and The Most Improved
Lists on lists on lists attempt to calculate the most and least gay-friendly universities in the United States. Some, such as the Campus Pride Index, focus mostly on policy-related data that’s provided voluntarily by campus officials. Others — most notably the Princeton Review, which released its annual rankings Aug. 6 — come from surveys of students about policies, administrators, and the overall atmospheres at their schools. In rare cases, each university listed is described by a different author — one who actually attended that school. For an example of the latter, check out The "Lesbian Insider’s Guide to 40 LGBT-Friendly College Campuses" on Autostraddle.
But instead of yet another best/worst list, here you’ll simply find some of the most notable college LGBT news stories of the past year (mostly barring those from routinely and extremely pro- or anti-gay universities — that’s not news).
California Polytechnic State University
News Bite: Religious and often anti-gay speakers are not uncommon on college campuses, but during one woman’s spiel at Cal Poly’s student union in June, a gay couple hopped on stage and made out right next to her. Almost all students in the vicinity cheered or laughed gleefully, temporarily making her inaudible.
More: With programs such as PRISM, an LGBT peer counseling and mentoring program, Cal Poly was able to say"yes" to all "student life" criteria on the Campus Pride Index LGBT-Friendly Campus Report Card. The university has an association that works to empower, attract, and retain those who identify as LGBT at a faculty and staff level, too.
News Bite: When four members of the Westboro Baptist Church showed up at Vassar College in March, because it follows “the satanic Zeitgeist by professing the soul-damning lie that it is 'OK to be gay,’” more than 500 student and community members greeted them, some carrying rainbow-colored signs spreading messages of love. That's impressive for a college with fewer than 2,500 students. To boot, funds raised during the event supported the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth.
More: With seven organizations affiliated with the campus LGBTQ Center, such as ACT OUT, a student group that uses off-campus activism and on-campus awareness to fight for LGBT rights, there are plenty of places to seek help, camaraderie, and activism.
News Bite: Former Baylor basketball player (and current member of the Phoenix Mercury) Brittney Griner made a splash in the media in May when she said the Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey didn’t want gay players to talk about their sexuality. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW, she explained that coaches likely thought parents wouldn’t send their children to play sports at Baylor if coaches seemed to condone LGBT behavior. At a university where the official sexual misconduct statement still lists “homosexual acts” as “misuses of God’s gifts,” the coaches might have a point.
Glass half full: Stories like Griner’s aren’t exactly isolated at Baylor (check out Mark Osler's comments on HuffPo for more on that), where sexual orientation is still omitted from the nondiscrimination policy. But as Samuel Freedman noted in a New York Times column in May, Griner was far from condemned after coming out in April. In an email, the university’s director of media communications offered “admiration, appreciation, and support” to Griner. Perhaps Griner’s coming out really could be a turning point for the LGBT community at Baylor.
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
News Bite: Because the UNC Board of Trustees unanimously supported establishing a gender-neutral housing pilot program last November, the Chapel Hill campus was set to test a 32-spot residence with the start of the 2013-2014 fall semester. That is, until the UNC Board of Governors voted unanimously to ban gender-neutral housing on all 17 UNC campuses on Aug. 9. Regarding the pilot program in an April statement, State Sen. David Curtis (R) said, "UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments."
Glass half full: A write-up in the Daily Tar Heel called Curtis' comments "an insult to deserving students who struggle to succeed because of their housing situation," Campus Pride worked with UNC students to organize a protest at the Aug. 19 board meeting, and, well, the UNC Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of the housing program. Additionally, the town of Chapel Hill itself is known for being gay-friendly. As long as the board seems so adamant about its decision, obtaining gender-neutral housing could be hard for the students at UNC-Chapel Hill, but judging by past determination they likely won't go down easily.
Then: In 2007, Georgetown students protested university inaction regarding an alleged anti-gay assault case. In a 2008 survey, 61% of students considered homophobia to be an issue at Georgetown. Then, in the fall of 2009, three anti-gay hate crimes occurred in the span of one week: two physical assaults and one written slur. As the list of run-ins and slurs continued to grow, though, students continued to speak out against them.
Now: Georgetown has again made LGBT news this year, but this time, the news is great for the LGBT community. In March, Nate Tisa became the first gay president of Georgetown University Student Association. With that, he also became the third openly gay man elected to lead student government at a Catholic college. Then, in July, Kyle Spencer's New York Times article spotlighted the drastic change that's occurred at Georgetown in the past 30 years, and especially over the last five years. Now, Spencer outlined, Georgetown has OUTober, Gender Liberation Week, Gay Pride Month, Genderfunk, and a Lavender graduation ceremony. That's not to say there's no everything's perfect — some students and alumni certainly don't seem happy about Georgetown's apparent social evolution — but it's come a long way.
Texas A&M University
Then: Texas A&M has had a bad reputation ever since it was on the losing side of a 1984 court case that required public universities to recognize student organizations aimed at gay students. An attempt by the Student Senate in 2011 to cut the GLBT Resource Center's funding in half and divert the excess funds to a "center for traditional and family values" only exacerbated that reputation. Continual silence on such issues by the A&M administration has not helped, either, as evidenced by a statement unanimously approved by the faculty of the Department of Anthropology in May 2011.
Now: A&M first made headlines in April when its Student Senate approved a proposal to allow students to prevent their student fees from going to the school’s LGBTQ Center — an estimated $1 per fee — if they claimed a religious or moral objection. But almost immediately, articles were updated to show that the student body's president, John Claybrook, vetoed the bill, saying in a letter, "Now, more than ever, is the time to show great resolve and come together, treating each other like the family that we are." Following the news, openly gay A&M swimmer Amini Fonua, a Tongan Olympian and the 2012 Big 12 breaststroke champion, defended the university in The Battalion, explaining that the existence of homophobia at A&M seems to be sensationalized.