Law student Richard Bellamy has his face painted by Taylor McCormick at the ALLY event in Gregory Plaza on Thursday. The event was hosted by StandOut to raise awareness about queer issues.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Overwhelmed. Intimidated. Confused. These are the feelings that mark the first few weeks of freshman year. Dorms, however, serve as safe havens for the hordes of new students in those first few weeks. On-campus living is valuable to first-year students, and this is why 70 percent of the 7,200 students housed on campus are freshmen seeking the security and belonging found in a residential dormitory. Due to the fact that on-campus dorms require same-sex roommate pairing, many LGBTQ students have to tolerate rooming situations that range from uncomfortable to unbearable.

The current same-sex roommate policy operates under very heteronormative assumptions. While it is intended to provide “appropriate” rooming situations, the policy ignores the unique housing needs of the LGBTQ community. Gender diversity in this community means students’ preferences and identifications fall beyond the traditional scope of gender norms, and the roommate policy does not acknowledge this diversity or support the many difficulties of this community. In fact, a study (Rankin and Beemyn, in progress) found that 44 percent of 50 transgender students from 14 universities experienced harassment in the form of derogatory remarks, verbal and physical threats, and denial of services. 

“Living in all-female dorms during both of my first two years on campus [was] an uncomfortable situation since I began questioning my gender. My request to change rooms was denied and I couldn’t afford a single room [on campus],” said Bridgette Kieffer, co-director of LGBTQ political activist group StandOut.

Since then, the Division of Housing and Food Service has offered a welcome, though incomplete solution. “If an LGBTQ student is willing to share their gender identity, it is possible that they will be assigned an individual room at the same cost as sharing a room,” Kieffer said. “This is not ideal since it requires the student to come out to Housing, but it is a step in the right direction.” 

Associate Director of Residence Life Hemlata Jhaveri, who oversees these types of housing issues at DHFS, has been working with StandOut for the past year to further evaluate the need for gender-neutral housing and study how it is provided at other universities. “It is very important that every student feels safe in their community living space, and we work with students on an individual basis,” Jhaveri said. Gender-neutral housing would give students the option to room together, regardless of the students’ biological sex or identified gender. DHFS has found that only two private schools in Texas offer it, and the majority of schools outside Texas offer it only to upperclassmen through university-owned apartments, suggesting its infeasibility at UT. 

StandOut, however, is not satisfied with these initiatives and has continued to petition for a gender-inclusive housing option that would allow students of any gender to freely room together for over a year now. Last year, DHFS suggested UT’s off-campus dorms as a solution because they allow students to choose any roommate. “That shows that they just wanted to throw the issue off campus, and I strongly agree with the idea that you should live on campus your first year,” StandOut co-director Devon Howard said. Since then, StandOut has continued to push for an on-campus dorm with a pilot floor for gender-inclusive housing. DHFS, however, has not confirmed any plans of the sort, and LGBTQ students are still forced to manage with the roommate policy in the current on-campus housing options.

Even if DHFS did approve plans for a pilot floor, it is still questionable that that would completely solve the problem. “I don’t believe this is purely housing-related,” Devon said. “UT has pretty awesome LGBTQ policies, like the nondiscrimination policy or preferred pronoun change on non-legal documents. A lot of the issues come from the students and their ignorance - not much [that] the University itself can directly cure.”

I think I speak for all of us when I say it is time to reexamine initiatives to cure the true source of the problem – ignorance and intolerance. StandOut and DHFS’ initiatives to explore gender-inclusive housing are a sensible approach to sensitive student issues, but the solution has to start and end with education and stronger student initiatives to promote tolerance and diversity on and off campus.

Huynh is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Laredo.

Plan II Honors and Biology senior Katie Fife sits in a mock version of what a gender-inclusive dorm would look like, Tuesday morning. Members of the gender-inclusive housing initiative aim at providing a safe living option for transgender and gender non-confirming students.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Promoting the movement for gender-inclusive housing on campus, StandOut held a demonstration Tuesday afternoon on Speedway about what a dorm room with students of different genders would look like.

Ashley Hall, co-director of StandOut and psychology junior, said gender-inclusive housing is aimed at providing a safe living option for transgender and gender non-conforming students, a goal StandOut has been working to accomplish since last semester. Hall said gedner-inclusive housing provides a safe living option for transgender and gender non-confirming students.

The demonstration featured students doing what they would be normally doing in their dorm rooms — doing homework and listening to music. Hall said the point of the demonstration was to show students that gender-inclusive housing is no different from the University’s current housing environment and to grab passersby attention.

“That gives us the chance to educate on gender-inclusive housing and what we want from that program and why it is important,” Hall said.

John Ramsey, president of University Residence Hall Association and finance junior, said URHA is set to vote on the proposal on April 30. On April 2, URHA unanimously supported gender-inclusive housing in a straw poll.

“But we haven’t voted yet and we’re still waiting on what kind of feedback we can get from regular residents,” Ramsey said.

Should the vote pass, Ramsey said the next step would be talk to Division of Housing and Food Services to set up a pilot program.

“Just because we get the vote passed doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee, but it is definitely the first step,” Ramsey said. “DHFS is very adamant about listening to student opinion, and URHA is the official student opinion we have.”

Patrick Haisten, treasurer of StandOut and professional accounting graduate student, said the organization began promoting gender-inclusive housing last semester, but they have vamped up their work this semester.

“I know there have been other groups and other students on campus that have tried to do something like this before, and we of StandOut have tried to build on their progress,” Haisten said. “Now we’ve really made it our sexual issue of the semester.”

In February, StandOut started a petition for gender-inclusive housing. Since then, Hall said over 600 students have signed the digital petition. Shortly after starting the petition, Hall said URHA reached out and has worked with StandOut on the issue.

“They’ve hosted us in their meetings twice, which has been really helpful,” Hall said. “In a lot of ways they’ve been helping us out, and now they’ve agreed to look at the proposal and tweak that with us, so we’ll keep working with them.”

Hall said URHA has helped StandOut draft their proposal, which resolves some of the myths about gender-inclusive housing.

“There are myths that people are going to get pregnant from this, and that is just not happening,” Hall said.

Hall said another myth and concern is sexual assault, but she said sexual assault is not a concern at campuses that offer gender-inclusive housing.

“[Gender-inclusive housing] actually currently has a completely clean record, and that is more than we can say for traditional housing,” Hall said.

Hall said University Democrats has been another student organization that has helped the cause for gender-inclusive housing. She said in late March they passed a referendum in support of gender-inclusive housing.

“They helped us spread the word and get more signatures on the petition,” Hall said. “A lot of what we really needed is more outreach to different groups that we’re not that well connected to. And UDems has been great at getting the word out and getting us connected to those groups.”

Published on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 as: UT gender-inclusive housing proposed

Recently, the University group StandOut proposed a gender-neutral approach to housing, where males and females could opt to be placed with students of the opposite gender. The group’s favored policy would dedicate a wing to students who chose this option. When listening to the group’s rhetoric, it is easy to construe the issue as purely one-dimensional and discredit it entirely. However, there actually are many practical benefits to mixed-gender housing.

Being a Longhorn is a proud tradition in many families. There are numbers of brothers and sisters who come to UT, and some would like to live together. Currently, they have to get an apartment off-campus. But in doing so, they may miss out on the social experience and friendships that dorms foster.

Also, there are a fair number of married students at UT. It seems unfortunate that these students are forced to choose between living in the dorms and living together. Married students are currently relegated to off-campus apartments that are far from the University. Even if UT chooses not to adopt the policy as a whole, it seems extreme that the University won’t even understand at least these cases.

Finally, there is the gender-equality uproar from the LGBT community. This is the only argument provided by the StandOut group, and it’s certainly an odd one. Essentially, they allege students who either identify with the opposite gender, identify with no gender or aren’t comfortable with members of the same sex should be able to live with those of the opposite. Limiting students to the status quo limits their ability to make that choice for themselves. UT shouldn’t be the one to make it for them.

Opponents of the proposal believe that it will be used by couples looking to more easily room with their boyfriend and girlfriend, and this is probably the case. But ultimately, what does it matter? In a University that gives out three free condoms per day in the Student Services Building, concerns for promiscuity obviously aren’t at the top of its list. The only legitimate concern that could arise from this would be an increase in room change requests when couples break up. However, there is always a steady stream of same-sex students looking for roommate transfers throughout the year, and it’s doubtful that the rates would be much higher than they already are. In fact, this could be beneficial; with more students requesting room changes, all students can have a larger selection of new roommates to choose from.

UT advertises itself as a forward-thinking university and a pioneer of social issues and equality. If this policy were adopted, it would make many students’ lives easier and would cost nothing to UT to implement. Rice University and some Ivy League schools have mixed gender dorm policies, and while “We should do it because the other guys are doing it” is never an effective argument — despite what UT sometimes likes us to believe — this does give us some valuable insight. Similar policies are in place at other schools, and, more importantly, similar policies have worked for other schools. Any resulting problems must not be significant or else the programs would not still be in place.

A gender-neutral dorm policy is a good idea, but the StandOut proposal isn’t perfect. Specifically, creating a dedicated gender-neutral wing is a where the plan falls short. Rather, related, married and LGBT students should be integrated into the other dorms using the same housing procedures as everyone else. After all, isn’t integration and acceptance what the LGBT community is all about?

McGarvey is a business honors freshman.

Law student Richard Bellamy has his face painted by Taylor McCormick at the ALLY event in Gregory Plaza on Thursday. The event was hosted by StandOut to raise awareness about queer issues.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Psychology junior Ashley Hall said she transferred to UT after experiencing discrimination at Baylor University because of her sexual orientation, and she is doing her part to stand up against similar criticism of other gay students at UT.
She said that a nice thing about UT is the openness allowed among the LGBT community.

“Other students frequently told me to hide [before transferring], and administrators didn’t allow me to form an LGBT group,” said Hall, who is a co-director of StandOut, an LGBT group on campus. “I realized then that there’s a need to make a difference, and that there’s a lot of work to do.”

In an effort to gain allies in the movement for equality, StandOut invited everyone to its Ally Carnival on Thursday. The main goal of the event was to make friends in the UT community and set up a platform for positive queer activism, co-directors of the organization said.

Pre-pharmacy sophomore Taylor McCormick said he came out two months ago, primarily because of participation with StandOut and Delta Lambda Phi, a gay fraternity.

“I was very reclusive my whole life — so boring and sad,” McCormick said. “My life at UT has made me myself, so much more free and fun.”

In revealing his orientation to his parents, McCormick said he was surprised at how accepting they were.

“Never assume how people are going to react,” McCormick said. “You’d never dream that the most conservative can actually be the most accepting.”

Some people outside the LGBT community who attended the carnival took pictures with the organization’s members holding colored “ALLY” signs to show their support.

“With a growing majority that is accepting of gay marriage, we need to continue helping others sympathize with the gay community,” said Plan II and biology senior Katie Fife. “I really see why many feel this is the civil rights movement of the age.”

Fife, one of the co-directors of StandOut, said she feels the word gay is often used in a condescending manner, and that is a change the organization is also seeking.
After an anti-gay heckler was escorted away from the carnival by campus security, computer sciences junior Matthew Vogel said it is frustrating to see people discriminating.

“I was making valid arguments [to the heckler] and was willing to continue until security came,” Vogel said. “It’s okay though. I look around at the people here and I know there’s great support.”