More and more, college students who identify themselves as a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, questioning/queer, intersex, and allies/androgynous/asexual (LGBTQIA) community, are choosing a university that is LGBTQIA friendly.
The New York Times describes this as a “phenomenon” and says that some students are prioritizing LGBTQIA resources above financial aid and the school’s academics.
Millersville University has several organizations on campus dedicated to promoting not only the acceptance of the LGBTQIA community, but also to foster diversity among the general campus community. MU Allies and the Office of Social Equity and Diversity are just two of the groups involved in bringing an end to discrimination at MU.
In most areas of the country, the LGBTQIA community can still be legally discriminated against. While Lancaster City does include LGBTQIA in their non-discrimination ordinances, the greater state of Pennsylvania does not protect the LGBTQIA community under their discrimination statutes.
“Although sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not included in our discrimination policy, the administration has supported for several years a ‘statement of inclusion’ including those categories,” said Dr. Blaise Liffick, Chair of MU’s LGBTQIA Committee and Safe Zone program.
The Safe Zone program was founded at MU as a visible support system for members of the LGBTQIA community (including students, faculty, and staff). Safe Zone is exactly what the name implies: a safe space for members of the LGBTQIA community if they feel discriminated against, harassed, intimidated, or bullied because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The program has trained mentors who are able to provide resources on LGBTQIA issues (including health and wellbeing). Safe Zone holds training for new mentors every semester, although only graduate assistants are eligible to be trained.
As a part of the President’s Commission on Cultural Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQIA Committee strives to create an environment that is inclusive of those who are a part of the LGBTQIA community. The committee also supports practices on campus that include or support the LGBTQIA community. Only in its second full year of operation, the LGBTQIA Committee does not hold events itself but rather focuses on events developed by other groups.
“We also seek to promote activities on campus that help the rest of the campus community have a better understanding of their LGBTQIA peers,” said Liffick. However, the committee does hope to hold their own events in the long-term. “Because of the very real concerns about potential discrimination, there are still many of the community who are unwilling to be publically associated with any of these groups, or who feel the need to continue to hide their participation,” says Liffick.
Although no MU Allies group has faced major protesting, some have questioned the need for Allies groups on campus. Liffick does not see potential discrimination as a downside of working with the LGBTQIA community: he sees this as a sign of the work needed to make MU a more accepting community.
The month of October has been declared LGBT History Month, according to Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), built on LGBT traditions: National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) and the anniversaries of the first two LGBT marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987.
Every day during October, a different LGBT icon is honored for their accomplishments. This year’s icons include Chris Colfer, Jodie Foster, and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others. LGBT History Month is a time when educators can find ways to bring LGBT history into the classroom and create an open discussion. GLSEN hopes that bringing the LGBT history to the classroom will lead to exploring more LGBT issues.
While Liffick believes there are major strides that must be made, not just at MU but across the country, time spent working with Allies groups has been worth every second:
“I have learned invaluable lessons about not only accepting differences, but appreciating those differences.”