Two students hope for more inclusion of LGBTQIA community at TCU

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    TCU strives to fulfill the specific needs of each and every Horned Frog.

    But there are some students and staff who think that one area could be improved upon.

    “TCU on LGBTQIA issues isn’t what I would say is on the cutting edge,” said Chuck Dunning, the administrative liaison for the TCU Allies.

    LGBTQIA, as of 2014, stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, according to the National Organization for Women.

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    A pop culture shift

    In recent media, transgender people have become more prominent.

    Transgender celebrities like Laverne Cox have helped to bring transgender people into pop culture. Last week, Cox was listed as one of TIME Magazine’s100 Most Influential People.

    Society’s shift toward accepting LGBTQIA people has helped people be more vocal about their gender identities and sexualities, Dunning said.

    “Our society is making a shift,” Dunning said, “and all of these populations that we are talking about are increasingly being welcomed to be who they are in public 24-7.”

    Dunning said this requires addressing issues specific to LGBTQIA students including on TCU’s campus.

    “So what that means is that even though I don’t identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, I still need to be able to understand and relate with people who do,” Dunning said.

    How TCU includes LGBTQIA students now

    According to the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, TCU created a non-discrimination statement which included sexual orientation and gender identity in 2012.

    For transgender students, TCU makes specific accommodations if they ask for them.

    Transgender students could face particular challenges at a university, especially when using public restrooms and applying for on-campus housing.

    Craig Allen, the director of Housing and Residence Life, said that the staff has assisted transgender students in the past to fit each one of their needs.

    Depending on each situation, this included providing private rooms and restrooms as well as allowing the use of the residence hall restrooms that corresponded with the student’s gender identity.

    TCU also offers the student-run Gay-Straight Alliance and the TCU Allies to assist LGBTQIA students.

    TCU Allies are members of faculty and staff who “welcome, affirm and celebrate persons in the LGBTQIA communities of Texas Christian Univeristy,” according to the website.

    Suggestions to better TCU’s inclusion

    Brandon, a sophomore who didn’t want to share his last name, identifies as gender queer, the Q in the acronym.

    “I actually identify as gender queer or gender fluid, basically meaning that I switch between male and female depending on the day,” Brandon said.

    Gender queer, according to the National Organization for Women, is “an umbrella term for those who wish to not categorize sex, sexuality or gender.”

    Brandon prefers to express himself in feminine clothing. However, right now he still maintains masculine pronouns.

    Because of Brandon’s gender expression, using public restrooms can be a challenge.

    “My primary challenge has been using restrooms,” Brandon said, “and that I need to find a gender-neutral restroom to feel safe.”

    According to the TCU Allies website, there are five public-access, gender-neutral restrooms on TCU’s campus.

    But access to a gender-neutral restroom is not always available for Brandon or other transgender students.

    “Sometimes I find myself having to settle for a restroom that I do not feel comfortable in,” Brandon said. “Because I do not pass completely as a woman. I find myself having to use men’s restrooms, and my gender expression would draw unwanted attention.”

    Brandon also thinks that TCU should provide gender-neutral, on-campus housing.

    “I do think there needs to be a gender-neutral housing option available for students here at TCU, whether they are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior,” Brandon said. “You need to be able to have a roommate who you can feel comfortable with, regardless of what their legal sex or gender identity might be.”

    Allen says gender-neutral, on-campus housing has been considered.

    “All of the people I know in this field have absolutely thought about it,” Allen said. “Not only do we think about it, we talk about it, we have list serves and devote questions to it as to how to best handle the whole notion of gender-neutral housing.”

    But he does not think that will be made an option in the immediate future.

    Allen’s colleagues at other universities with gender-neutral housing said that most of the students who live there are not transgender students. Rather, they are heterosexual students who want a roommate or roommates of the opposite sex.

    Dunning said TCU could be more inclusive to LGBTQIA students by adding full time staff and an office space dedicated to assisting them.

    “I think we tend to lag behind many other universities in terms of having people on campus who are identified as full-time, paid staff to make sure that this university is addressing the needs and the concerns of the LGBTQIA community as well as possible,” Dunning said.

    Other universities and LGBTQIA inclusion

    Duke University, which Dunning said is an aspirant university, has a strong social media presence to support the LGBTQIA community at Duke.

    Last week, Duke’s “You Don’t Say? Campaign” supported the annual Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s “Day of Silence,” which was on April 17.

    The organization took pictures of students giving reasons why they were silent and posted them on the group’s Facebook page.

    This was used as a symbol of “the silencing of the LGBTQ voices through anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

    Photos of Day of Silence courtesy of Duke University’s “You Don’t Say? Campaign” Facebook

    In 2009, TCU was evaluated on its level inclusion with 12 other universities, including Duke. Of the 20 indicators for an LGBTQIA inclusive institution, TCU has seven.

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    The information regarding TCU is up to date for Spring 2015. The other institutions’ information was taken from the comparison done in 2009.

    Dunning said that the universities TCU aspires to be like are Duke, Northwestern, Rice and Vanderbilt.

    A celebration of who you are

    Ajja Thompson, a junior modern dance major and a transgender woman, also has suggestions in order to include LGBTQIA students.

    “Have a Gay Day,” Thompson said. “You might get some hate for it, but have a Gay Day.”

    “Gay Day” or “Rainbow Week” would tell LGBTQIA students that they are accepted by their peers, faculty and staff as who they are.

    “Gay Day will consist of conversations, lectures. Maybe even turn Frog Fountain, you know the little colors that are in there? Make it rainbow. Do something that shows that there are LGBT students on this campus,” Thompson said.

    “We are in the Bible Belt, and we have to acknowledge that,” Thompson said. “We were not founded on liberal principles. That is factual. So I’m not going to stick a gun to someone’s head and be like, ‘Hey, you need to change this right now. At this very moment.’ That is impossible to do.”

    But ultimately, the inclusion of these students is vital, Thompson said, even on a TCU administrative level.

    “You’re going to get heat for it, of course,” she said. “But at some point, you’ve got to say what’s right. Our administration has to start standing up, because you’re here for the students, not for yourselves. And the students are hurting. The LGBTQIA community is hurting. And you just can’t sit there and ignore it.”