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For LGBTQ persons, searching for solutions (Gay at U.Va.: Part III)

Alumni, students call upon administrators to incorporate gay equality in curriculum, social institutions, southern traditions

In accordance with the University's ongoing progress toward building a more LGBTQ-friendly community, professors, students and alumni within the University's LGBTQ communities have called upon leaders within the University to actively seek to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ students and faculty, naming several important issues that University officials need to confront.

A queer studies major?\nOne topic on the minds of many within the LGBTQ communities is the issue of a queer studies major or minor, which currently does not exist at the University.

"If a university is about learning and scholarship, we're really showing a lack of faith in the LGBTQ community if we don't offer a major or minor," said Sean Kennedy, who graduated from the University in 2000.

Calling the University "world class," Psychology Prof. Charlotte Patterson, the current head of the University's Studies in Women and Gender program, said there will be a considerable discussion in the near future regarding the adoption of such a curriculum.

Ed Warwick, program coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center, suggested that the adoption of such a curriculum is an issue that needs to be addressed from the ground up, adding that professors in all subjects should be more active in incorporating LGBTQ issues in the classroom.

Second-year College student Conor Sheehey is unsure whether the adoption of such curriculum would change students' minds about the LGBTQ communities, but he said he found there were already a great deal of LGBTQ-related courses already offered at the University. He also noted that the students that take such courses are often already somewhat knowledgeable of the communities, though.

"I seriously doubt that many students who don't already have an interest in LGBT culture or who identify with the LGBT community would take any kind of a queer studies-related course," Sheehey said.

Patterson said she is optimistic about going forth with developing a major or minor centered around LGBTQ issues, especially as such education gains recognition at schools around the country.

Role models\nMembers of the University's LGBTQ communities have also expressed a greater need for role models.

"There are still too many closeted faculty and staff and administrators ... in particularly high-powered places," Kennedy said. "I think those people should come out; many of them could be much more outspoken."

The University's current policies regarding same-sex partner benefits do not attract a lot of LGBTQ faculty, which adds to the University's lack of LGBTQ role models, Kennedy added.

"With more and more students coming out at a younger age, our youth and students need to be able to identify positive role models," Warwick said, adding, "I think we can always have more positive role models, and I think we have a lot of 'out' administrators and faculty, but it's hard to gauge if students and others know who's out or identifies as LGBTQ."

Warwick also acknowledged those who are not out publicly also deserve privacy. "We need to respect the various circumstances and difficult decisions people have to make," he said.

Third-year College student Cindy Gray, co-president of the Queer Student Union, said the presence of such role models would not only assist LGBTQ students, but also change perspectives around Grounds. She said there is a need for straight leaders as well. "I wish there were more people that were straight and not afraid to say that they're allies and see that there are issues."

'An embarrassment'\nThere are a variety of political hurdles facing the LGBTQ communities, as well.

The University may lose donors, for instance, if certain University alumni do not agree with the University's acceptance of LGBTQ policies, said Kate Ranson-Walsh, an alumna from the University's Class of 2002.

"U.Va. has a brand that needs to hit different people in different ways," she said. "Because of the history of the place being so white and so southern, the people who identify with that - their presence seems more present."

Furthermore, Kennedy said the University's non-discriminatory policy should be altered to explicitly include gender identity. Rod Davis, a 1983 University graduate and president-emeritus of the Serpentine Society, the University's LGBTQ alumni association, said the fact that the University does not fully fund its LGBT Resource Center is "an embarrassment," especially in comparison to its peer institutions.

Davis also said University leaders as a whole could afford to take a stronger, more outward stance on LGBTQ issues. He suggested the University take LGBTQ issues to legislators Richmond.

"The University needs to make the business case," Davis said, explaining that some of the University's current LGBTQ policies put it at a competitive disadvantage and also hinder fundraising efforts from LGBTQ alumni and donors.

"The biggest thing they can do is use their bully pulpit, to be very outspoken about the fact that they are a welcoming place for all minority groups. As an institution they haven't done as good a job as they could," Davis said.

Davis also suggested the addition of an openly gay member on the Board of Visitors, noting that such a presence could truly integrate the LGTBQ communities into the University's mainstream culture.

Room for growth\nJust 15 years ago, when Kennedy was a first-year student at the University, the "not gay" chant was a staple of football games and there were hardly any openly gay faculty members or administrators.\n"Being gay was a hush-hush topic, on an institutional and personal level," he said.

Although students have recognized many positive changes at the University, they have also recognized room for improvement.

"I don't hate U.Va.," said third-year College student Katie Mayfield, who serves as co-President of the Queer Student Union. "I'm here and I'm happy. It's not perfect. Most of the time it's quite lovely."

Gray also said though the University is not perfect, it's "definitely doing a lot more than some universities."

Although many students, alumni, staff, faculty and administrators have voiced their opinions about the next steps that the University needs to take in creating a comfortable and accepting environment for its LGBTQ communities, they have also recognized that such change is not necessarily easy to create.

"Changes would have to come from the students," said Alex King, a openly gay alumnus who graduated in May. "I don't feel like that's something that's easy to change; most people's beliefs have been shaped for many years," he said.

Meanwhile, there are still groups on Grounds that remain a threat to the University's LGBTQ communities.

When first-year College student Joe Leonard first arrived at the University just a few weeks ago, he was surprised by how supportive the University was of its LGBTQ students, but he also discovered that not everyone at the University was so friendly.

While walking near his dorm, Leonard came across an advertisement for a new group on Grounds that appeared to be catered toward Christians within the LGBTQ community. Curious about the group, Leonard sent them an email. The response he got shocked him.

"We're a newly formed organization, and we want to be a forum for the healthy understanding of sexuality. We encourage former gay and lesbian students who want to align their sexual behaviors with scriptural standards. Basically, if you, like some of us, are struggling with an attraction or an addiction that goes against your conscience, we're here to be your support group," the email stated.

Although Davis recognizes that the University has made progress over the years in relation to aiding its LGBTQ communities, he also believes that there is still room for growth.

"It is a bit ironic that our University, founded by the man responsible for inspiring all of us with the words that 'all men are created equal' continues to treat many of its brothers and sisters as second class citizens," Davis said.

Editor's note: This is the last part of a three-part series about gay life at the University. Part I discusses the University's support for LGBTQ employees. Part II focuses on the University's support for LGBTQ students.


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