Saturday marked the beginning of Pride Week 2014, hosted by the University LGBTQ Center. The event runs through Friday and features 11 separate activities celebrating the diverse aspects of LGBTQ communities.
“It’s easy to get caught up in LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] programs and events throughout the year,” said Queer Student Union Co-President Blake Calhoun, a third-year College student. “Pride Week refocuses us on the entire queer community, which is needed for our survival.”
Highlights for the week include an LGBTQ Career Panel, Safe Space training, a talk from asexual activist Julie Sondra Decker and the Day of Silence, where students will abstain from speaking to represent the silence felt by many LGBTQ individuals. The week will wrap up with the Over the Rainbow Paint Fight Saturday at 3 p.m. at Nameless Field.
QSU Vice-President Abe Wapner, a fourth-year College student, said Pride Week is an opportunity to bring LGBTQ issues to the foreground of dialogues across Grounds.
“As a marginalized community, the LGBTQ community is often forced to operate in ‘the fringes’ of University life,” Wapner said. “With large events across Grounds in places as central to the University as the Lawn or the Chapel, the week puts an important spotlight on the LGBTQ community.”
Founded under the Office of the Dean of Students in 2001, the LGBTQ Center advocates for inclusion of sexual and gender diversities through programs, outreach and services intended to support the advancement of LGBTQ individuals.
“The Center really seeks to provide visibility for the LGBTQ community at U.Va.,” said Scott Rheinheimer, coordinator for LGBTQ student services. “First and foremost, it’s about visibility. You can see we’re here, a diverse community with a lot to offer.”
Rheinheimer said he hopes events such as Pride Week will provide some type of cultural education to the general community, as well as support for LGBTQ and non-identifying students.
“The [LGBTQ] community in general is a really diverse group of people with a diverse set of needs within the community,” Rheinheimer said. “Initiatives for gay students can be different for how an issue can impact a transgender student. … The general issue we tend to find is based on safety and security.”
Two of the community’s current concerns include bathroom usage and housing. Rheinheimer said some LGBTQ students feel anxiety when deciding whether to use male or female bathrooms.
The Center is working to address LGBTQ living situations by looking into inclusive gender-neutral housing on Grounds. Rheinheimer pointed out that the challenge will be making the housing inclusive and secure while ensuring that it is not segregated.
Gay Perez, associate dean of students and executive director of housing and residence life, said the University does not currently have an explicit policy about gender neutral housing.
“The University houses about 3,600 first-year students in University operated housing, and about 3,000 upper class students,” Perez said. “All of the U.Va. residence halls are coeducational, meaning different floors will be designated for male or female students.The University does consider requests related to undergraduate gender neutral arrangements on a case-by-case basis.”
The inclusion of LGBTQ students within traditional university organizations such as fraternities, sororities, and other visible groups around Grounds is another central goal of the Center.
Rheinheimer said initiatives such as Safe Space training in the Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority Councils are steps in the right direction, but there are still problems that need to be addressed.
Though the University does not collect information on student’s sexual orientation, “I’m pushing for U.Va. to do that,” Rheinheimer said. “I would say that’s one of our biggest issues.”
The admissions office is currently looking into adding a question under the demographics area of applications which would allow students to identify their sexual orientation.
“The addition of an optional question on the Common Application is one of many topics we have discussed,” Dean of Admissions Greg Roberts said. “While a decision has not been made at this point, we continue to explore how we can best serve the needs of applicants and enrolling students through the college search and application process.”
Roberts said the Admissions Office has reached out to LGBTQ individuals in the past six months to work on engaging with, enrolling and supporting LGBTQ students.
“[The] LBGTQ Center representatives will be meeting with deans in the admission office in a few weeks to continue our discussion, and we have invited members of the Center to meet with the Admission Advisory Committee at our spring meeting next week,” Roberts said. “We are always eager to work with students, faculty and University organizations as we develop plans and strategies to support our goal of enrolling a talented and diverse student body.”