People across the country come together to celebrate the LGBTQ + community on Pride Month.
At UF, this June was not only a celebration of progress for campus organizations, but also a time to push for future change.
Events by LGBTQ + Affairs, an office of UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, on topics such as transgender health, Juneteenth and settler colonialism. Almost halfway through Pride Month, the LGBTQ + community gathered at UF Virtuell to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the mass shootings at Pulse nightclub.
Outside of Pride Month, UF student organizations, faculty, and staff worked to support the LGBTQ + community through educational programs, health services, and policy proposals.
Where are we now?
Improving gender and sexuality education at UF remains a common demand among LGBTQ + students and community activists.
The Center for Gender, Sexualities and Women’s Studies Research, which leads the movement to establish UF as a pre-eminent university in the field, has advocated equality for the LGBTQ + community through research and teaching.
In spring 2021, over 449 students declared major subjects in women’s studies or minor subjects in women’s studies, theories and politics of sexuality or health disparities within the center – an increase compared to 132 students in spring 2014.
“Our common vision is to maintain a community of scientists, students and executives who use the instruments of gender, sexuality and women’s studies to generate knowledge and positive effects in practice,” wrote Dr. Bonnie Moradi, director of the center, in an email.
In the Counseling & Wellness Center and Student Health Care Center, the physical and mental well-being of LGBTQ + people is supported through various health measures. The centers have developed resource offerings for transgender students, such as receiving hormone therapy at SHCC or participating in gender identity therapy groups at the CWC.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender adults reported attempting suicide, with 92% reporting the attempted suicide before the age of 25. Among black transgender people, the percentage of suicide attempts rose to 47%.
For UF student advocates like 20-year-old Junior Eden Goodman, seeing the university take a bigger role on LGBTQ + issues to make real change on campus is an important step.
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When Goodman took the Biochemistry major in Preview in 2019, enrolling in challenging courses was nowhere near as daunting as working in the competitive STEM community as a genderqueer bisexual student – a separate obstacle they faced.
Goodman wanted to meet more LGBTQ + students who were into STEM and led them to their first meeting with Out in STEM (oSTEM) – an organization for LGBTQ + students to develop professional skills and promote intersectionality in STEM professions.
“[We want] to enhance LGBT students’ experiences in the STEM community and to make sure they know they are safe, ”Goodman said. “There are people who are like them, and so they can use these opportunities and really make a place for themselves.”
Now, two years later, Goodman became president of oSTEM and plans to expand the club’s reach to include more queer STEM students in the coming school year.
This summer, oSTEM added a new sub-organization called Pride in Psychology to their other two existing sub-organizations – Pride in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Pride in Engineering. Goodman hopes that oSTEM will continue to add new STEM sub-organizations to encompass the entire STEM community at UF.
Like Goodman, many other queer UF students have found homes in student organizations that serve the UF LGBTQ + community – one of the largest is the Pride Student Union. As one of the nine largest student organizations, also known as the Big Nine organization, the Pride Student Union strives to create an inclusive environment for queer students through social networking, activism, and leadership.
“A question is often asked [to a queer individual] and it’s not supposed to be aggression, it’s out of real curiosity, ”Goodman said. “But it is not the responsibility of the LGBT person to teach the person who is asking the question … so I think it would be really useful to spread this type of education across campus and in all facets.”
Other organizations like the Queer Cultivation Program offer mentoring opportunities for LGBTQ + students. For LGBTQ + UF students of color, the Queer Trans People of Color Collective provides a safe space for discussion on issues affecting the community.
Student-led LGBTQ + initiatives continue to be an important source of advocacy at UF, as was most recently demonstrated by a team of six SG senators and students in a proposal for gender-neutral living.
The proposal led to the official establishment of the Lavender Living Learning Community at the Springs Complex – an LLC designed to protect itself from discrimination and educate residents about gender and sexuality.
The Presidential LGBTQ + Advisory Committee was established as a tool to systematically and regularly assess higher education policies that may adversely affect LGBTQ + people, as well as the concerns of LGBTQ + community members regarding homophobia and transphobia.
Students who are passionate about LGBTQ + matters are also encouraged to get involved on the committee, either by completing an application or attending a meeting to see if they would like to get involved, said Allyson Haskell, chairman of LGBTQ + – Advisory Committee of the President.
Promoting the queer quality of life at the UF was not only a burden for the students, as the faculty and staff of the UF also played a crucial role. As an advocate for LGBTQ + rights on campus, Haskell has used her position to improve queer wellbeing.
“[We] Take into account everything that happened in the last year that really impacted the campus and think about how we can make positive change in the future, ”said Haskell.
All of the different components of LGBTQ + advocacy at UF have paved the way for future change to be sought after this Pride Month. However, settling UF’s troubled past with the LGBTQ + community poses a constant challenge for today’s students.
Where did we start
The advances you see at UF today have not always been a reality. Changes on campus have taken place over time.
The Johns Committee, which operated from 1956 to 1965, targeted the LGBTQ + community in state public schools, including UF, with the assistance of then-President Julius Wayne Reitz. The committee was originally formed to discover communist connections “within the NAACP or the academic community” but switched to investigating LGBTQ + faculties and students in 1958. At UF it resulted in at least 15 professors and 50 students leaving the university.
In the early 1980s, the University of Florida Lesbian and Gay Society (UFLAGS) registered as an on-campus student organization, as known on the UF website for LGBTQ + Affairs. The group was discriminated against and struggled to get money from the student government and office space in the Reitz Union – which led to their dissolution.
In his place, Bill Gallagher, a UF student, founded the Gay and Lesbian Student Union (GLSU) in 1987. Although it started as an off-campus organization, it became an official student group in 1991. In 2000, the GLSU was given the name it knows today: Pride Student Union.
In an effort to help LGBTQ + students, faculty, and staff feel more welcome on campus, the Sexism and Homophobia Committee launched the Friends of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Friends program in 1999.
Art Sandeen, 83, UF Vice President for Student Affairs from 1973 to 1999, supported and participated in the Friends program during his time in this position.
In the windows of the offices on campus, members of the Friends program would display a sign saying they are friends of members of the LGBTQ + community, Sandeen said. Those who took part in the program were also given a button that could be used to identify them, according to a program brochure. The message was simple: the office staff would welcome students and others looking for comfort and acceptance, he said.
“I was encouraged that there were so many people in the offices on campus willing to say, ‘Hey, these students, faculty and staff are welcome here,'” he said. “And that was a change.”
At the time, things weren’t that open and students were afraid to come out because of their families, friends, and the university, Sandeen said. He hopes the little gesture has been helpful for members of the LGBTQ + community and started the process to make students feel safe at UF, he said.
“The world has changed and it is still changing,” said Sandeen. “I was glad this happened when it did, and as a society we have since gone far beyond it in more positive ways.”
Contact Makiya Seminera at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @makseminera.
Contact Juliana Ferrie at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ juliana_f616.
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Juliana Ferrie is a sophomore UF journalism student. She looks forward to working for The Alligator as a Santa Fe Beat reporter. In her spare time you can find her reading or listening to music.