Gender and Sexuality Center

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Gender and Sexuality Center recognized World AIDS Day with discussions from two Austin-area speakers on AIDS and topics relevant to gender and sexuality. 

The event was part of the center’s 10-year anniversary celebration. At the event, English assistant professor Heather Houser read from her new book, “Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect,” and Ebony Stewart, local poet and sexual health educator, spoke on the widespread confusion established among younger generations in regards to gender and sexuality.

Houser discussed the central topics in her book and the relationship between the human body and its environment with reference to diseases such as AIDS. 

According to Houser, when there is a personal relationship with the environment, emotions play a large role in the daily life. This refers to a sick person who deals with his or her owns disease and is surrounded by society — its environment. Houser also said a harmonious nature between individuals and their respective environment should be at the center of politics. 

“What people feel can certainly be a form of knowledge,” Houser said. 

Stewart said there is often confusion and many questions when it comes to topics on sexuality, and it is important to address them. During the event, she read a set of lines from her poems to express such confusion and its normality.

“It is normal to fear what we don’t understand,” Stewart said. “Homosexuality is not covered within my curriculum when it should be, as it is important.” 

Advertising junior Kimberly Doughty said she believes bringing in speakers to the UT community is important to generate knowledge on topics related to gender and sexuality.   

“There are large misconceptions about things such as sexual health and relationships such as illnesses, and I think it’s really important to have such speakers here to broaden our horizons, especially in a place where we may not be as educated,” Doughty said.  “There’s always more opportunities to learn, and these speakers encourage us to want to learn.” 

According to Ola Ukaoma, a biology junior and peer educator in the Gender and Sexuality Center, engaging speakers are important to introduce to the student community as it’s a great way for them to learn.

“Speakers have the ability to make things personal,” Ukaoma said. “There is a lot of information online that you can use and a lot of resources you can utilize, but a one-on-one conversation that is engaging is a good way to spread information to students.”

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

Every Friday, the Gender and Sexuality Center tackles timely feminist topics as a part of their Feminist Friday series. This Friday’s event will address issues regarding a Halloween tradition: costumes. 

From the provocative to the most insensitive, costumes will be a subject of debate. 

“Well, I think initially the two biggest things that come to mind when talking about Halloween are culturally appropriate costumes and in terms of women,” said Tyler Grant, public health junior and staff adviser for the Student Leadership Committee. “People slut-shame women who wear provocative costumes. At the same time, those tend to be the only option for women, especially young girls.”

According Grant, organizing Friday’s talk began during one of the weekly meetings the Center holds with students. While this week’s Feminist Friday hopes to educate students, the Center will also be holding a screening of “Hocus Pocus” and a session of pumpkin and cookie decorating. The GSC will also have Butterbeer for visitors, providing a sober space to celebrate. 

“Well, hopefully they’ll gain a new understanding and kind of a new perspective, and it’ll be a lot of fun, too,” Grant said. “I mean, everybody likes
‘Hocus Pocus,’”

“Since it began last year, the biweekly student-run discussion series has facilitated similar conversations among students,” said Liz Elsen, GSC’s assistant director. “We’ve talked about Halloween [for] two years in a row. It’s one of our more popular discussions because people have a lot to say
about it.”

Although the Center is well-known for its work with LGBT communities and women, Elsen said the Center aims to be inclusive.

“We are a women’s center and an LGBT center here on campus, and we’re open for everybody.” Elsen said. “We’re actually, technically, I think a LGBTQA center because we have plenty of allies who utilize our space.”

For Ilse Muñoz, geography and Plan II senior, finding out about the GSC started with a search for a useful resource.

“I just kind of walked in one day because I heard there was free printing, and, then, I just kind of stayed here,” Muñoz said. “Mostly because I feel a real sense of community with the people that visit here at the Center, and there’s a lot of good stuff about it. I feel like I’ve become a more educated person and have met a lot of really cool people, and I get really good resources here.” 

This sense of community and the numerous resources the Center houses have been a draw for students ever since the Center opened 10 years ago. 

“We have an amazing library; it’s off the UT library system; we have workstations; we do programming,” Elsen said. “The heart of what we do is — we’re a hangout spot for students, kind of a home-away-from-home.”

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

In one of the best surprises since Beyoncé’s album dropped, UT students next semester can take “Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” a class focusing on the queen herself in addition to Rihanna, pop culture’s favorite bad girl.

“Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” is cross-listed as an African and African diaspora studies and a women’s and gender studies course, with the expectation that students are able to conduct scholarly analyses on these pop-culture figures. 

But on a campus like UT, there are still many opportunities to engage with these topics for students who are unable to enroll in the course. UT has been offering discussions about Beyoncé’s brand of feminism since before Beyoncé herself. 

“An issue that we have with courses like this is that people don’t think they’re very rigorous and don’t regard pop culture as critical,” said Nia Crosley, undergraduate adviser for the African and African diaspora studies department. “Part of black studies in general is justifying that this is a legitimate field of study.”

Crosley said professors and advisers for both departments make it a priority to fuel discussions regarding feminism, black feminism and black queer theory so students are pushed to think about the topics in their daily lives.

“I think one of the special things about the [African and African diaspora studies] department is that we have so many faculty that are clued in to this vibrant community of activist scholars who are interested in this very critical field of study — which is race, gender and sexuality theory, which includes feminist theory, black feminist theory [and] queer theory,” Crosley said.

Other courses that contain similar content, according to Crosley, are “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies,” “Black Queer Literature and Film” and “Black Women, Struggle and the Transnational State.” For a more informal setting, Crosley recommends the Malcolm X Lounge, Gender and Sexuality Center and even Tumblr as platforms for students to educate themselves at their own pace.

Liz Elsen, program and outreach coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center, helps students organize activities and discussions that will help expand their views of feminism. One such program, Feminist Friday, is held in the center every Friday at 1 p.m. So the conversations stay relevant, students choose the topics for Feminist Friday in advance.

“At the beginning of each semester, we just do a brainstorming session for the first Feminist Friday,” Elsen said. “We ask questions like, ‘What do you think feminists should be talking about?’ just to get a vibe for what people think is important. We certainly have talked about Beyoncé.”

Ixchel Rosal, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, said she sees feminism as a personal journey of sorts. She hopes students take advantage of the center and other areas, such as the Multicultural Engagement Center, to gain better insights into their own ideas and identities.

“The purpose of the [Gender and Sexuality Center] is to provide a space [for students] to explore what feminism means to them because there are many theories and tenants about feminism within feminism,” Rosal said.

The center has a library and staff who can help students get involved in discussions and provide resources for personal education. Students interested in social justice can also look into the student-led programs at the Multicultural Engagement Center, such as the Women of Color Retreat.

“You learn theory in the classroom,” Rosal said. “Then this is where you get to try it on, and it would be really great to have students from the class come.”

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

After working to establish a women’s center at the University 10 years ago, Carrie Tilton-Jones will open a women’s center for the city Saturday. 

The Women’s Community Center of Austin, founded by Tilton-Jones, has been operating by hosting educational events since Jan. 2013, but it has existed without a building and full services.  Now, with its new building on the San Antonio Street opening, Tilton-Jones said the center will serve as a centralized space for women in the Austin community.

According to Rocío Villalobos, one of the center’s board members, the new center will provide educational workshops and have computers, printers, workspaces, a library, a children’s play area and a catalog of community resources for women, among other services.

“You have different groups that focus on different services that people may need, and what the women’s community center is trying to do is be a hub for some of those resources and some of that information,” said Villalobos, who is also the program coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center at UT.

Tilton-Jones, who took time off from pursuing a graduate degree at UT to work on the center, said she got the idea to open a women’s center while working as the co-director of the UT Women’s Resource Center, which later became the Gender and Sexuality Center. 

“[The Gender and Sexuality Center] became a home base for all types of women, from [the Rio Grande Valley], from Dallas, from Houston, from all around Texas,” said Tilton-Jones, who is also a founding board member of GSC. “And seeing the power in the women coming together and working together to make cool things happen was so inspiring.”

The center, located at 17th and San Antonio Street, is completely privately funded. The space will also provide another community space, which, Tilton-Jones said, is lacking in Austin.

“There aren’t as many public places where people can gather, and I felt it was important to have a non-commercial space,” Tilton-Jones said.

This center is not Austin’s first. In the 1970s up until the early 1990s, Tilton-Jones said Austin had a women’s center, but it closed for financial reasons.

“I was kind of surprised Austin didn’t have a women’s center of any kind,” Tilton-Jones said. “Most other large cities do.”

While Austin does have many services benefiting women, Tilton-Jones said the center serves to concentrate those community efforts and the center’s own efforts in one location.

“There’s a lot of great stuff going on for women in Austin, but it’s kind of hard to find,” Tilton-Jones said “There’s not really been a home base for the women’s community.”

Villalobos said she hopes the center will give University students connections off campus.

“I think it’s easy to stay in a UT bubble, especially as a student,” Villalobos said. “And we want to make sure that the center is another great resource for them besides the GSC or the [Multicultural Engagement Center] where they can meet folks that are interested in doing great things in the community.”

Marilyn Adams, an intern at the center and psychology senior, said that in addition to giving her peers resources in the community, she thinks the center could offer students a new study space.

“There’s also going to be computers there, so it could give students the opportunity to study off campus as opposed to a coffee shop where they would have to pay,” Adams said.

The Gender and Sexuality Center allowed students to experiment with different fashion styles through a gender-inclusive clothing swap Monday.

Dance senior Kelsey Rondeau said the clothing swap is a comfortable place for students to try on clothes for all genders without soliciting stares from strangers.

“It’s interesting because you can find clothing here from both genders and leave with clothing from either gender,” Rondeau said. “It’s an environment where you won’t be judged for trying on a skirt or a top.”

Rondeau said when trying on women’s clothes, onlookers will occasionally stare, but shopping is generally more comfortable in Austin. 

“When I go to Buffalo Exchange, everyone gets excited,” Rondeau said. “But that’s here in Austin. If I were shopping anywhere else, I would be judged for taking a top from the women’s section.”

Undeclared sophomore Stephanie Salazar said the clothing swap helps build community.

“[The event is] trying to create solidarity within the community by way of expressing ourselves through clothes,” Salazar said.

The clothing swap was intended for students on a budget, as well as the community the Gender and Sexuality Center serves, according to Elizabeth Elsen, program coordinator of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, who organized the clothing swap.

“A lot of our students aren’t super rich, so free clothes are always great,” Elsen said. 

Ilse Munoz, a Plan II and geography junior, said she wants others to have the opportunity to wear nice clothing without spending a lot of money.

“I like recycling clothing a lot,” Munoz said. “When I was younger, my family didn’t have enough money to buy new clothes, so for us it was nice to get good quality clothes for cheap. I want someone else who might be in a similar situation to be fashionable, to feel good about themselves.”

Leftover clothing from the swap usually goes to local community organizations.

“This year, any leftover clothes are going to those impacted by the flood in Travis County and Dove Springs.” Elsen said. “We usually donate to SafePlace and the settlement home.”

The event, which began two semesters ago as a clothing swap after a student’s suggestion, has since added a book swap. 

“A lot of students were talking about not getting much for their books at Half Price Books,” Elsen said.

Finance junior John Roberts was the only representative to vote against the bill supporting the continuation of funding the Gender and Sexuality Center.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

A bill to ensure the continuation of funding for the Gender and Sexuality Center passed in Student Government on Tuesday.

The bill was filed in response to events at Texas A&M University, where its Student Senate filed a bill to allow students to opt out of funding the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center for religious reasons. 

The purpose of the bill was to show that the student body supports the Gender and Sexuality Center and its educational value, Queer Students Alliance director Kent Kasischke said.

All members voted in support of the bill, with the exception of John David Roberts, a finance junior and McCombs representative.

“Today I represent the constituency that isn’t okay with the minority being forced to pay for something that they might have a moral problem with,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he is a supporter of the gay community and was a sponsor for another bill that supports Ally Day. The difference is that the Ally Day bill is about support while the Gender and Sexuality Center bill is about money, Roberts said.

“Just because we are a Texas school does not mean we are going to do the same actions [Texas A&M and the Texas Legislature] have,” said Janet Yang, an author of the Gender and Sexuality Center funding bill.

Yang said the bill also addressed the possibility of people around the nation categorizing UT into the beliefs Texas A&M and the Texas Legislature have set forth recently. The bill will not make any changes, but was an expression of Student Government’s stance on funding the Gender and Sexuality Center, according to Yang.

“It’s the visibility of it all,” Yang said. “Just to make sure that the stance of UT is being seen, we want to put something in writing explaining our viewpoint.”

Chemistry freshman Julia Mace writes a haiku on a board where everyone can share their thoughts on weekly themes at the Gender and Sexuality Center Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Following failed legislation both at Texas A&M and at the state level that would defund LGBT centers and clubs in Texas, UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center remained a place for queer students and their allies on campus who need support, guidance and friends.

The center offers students space to learn what gender and sexuality means and how to talk about it by utilizing trained professionals, a library on LGBT studies and connections through LGBT student groups, according to center director Ixchel Rosal. 

“The center is open to all students irrespective of how they identify,” Rosal said. “Students don’t have to make the choice about which piece of their identity they bring into a room. Anyone, including non-LGBT people, can come in to learn and not worry about being labeled one way or another.”

The center hosts more than 100 training sessions and educational programs to groups that request the information, according to education coordinator Shane Whalley, who works with groups and organizations on campus to understand the topics and learn to be allies if they are not LGBT individuals.

“When you come out as LGBT identitified, it’s not like someone gives you a manual that explains all about your identity,” Whalley said. “This is a place where people come to learn more about themselves, in a place they know they’re going to get good information. People share stories and experiences.”

A difficult balance

The center opened in 2004 as a joint effort between a group of students who wanted an LGBT resource center and a group who wanted a women’s resource center, Rosal said.

UT alumnus Martin Torres can remember being on the 40 Acres at a time when being openly gay was not nearly as well supported.

Torres, who graduated in 1984 with an advertising degree, said trying to navigate his sexuality during the same time he was trying to discover who he was in college was a difficult balance, even without the fear of being ostracized.

“I think it was being rejected by friends and or family [that worried me most],” Torres said. “That was actually a common theme then — people would come out and their family and friends would reject them, and I think people today, through more visibility, are seeing that that’s not an acceptable thing to do.”

Torres said the mindset about being gay in the 1980s was completely different because of  various factors, such as a much smaller number of public gay role models, which affected the way of thinking back then.

Torres said institutional support was mainly sought out by members of the LGBT community who were already comfortable with their sexuality. Others who were less secure in their sexuality had fewer places to go without running the risk of being judged by peers. 

“There was some sort of LGBT — or I guess just GL — organization at that time, but it’s like joining a club that you’re not quite sure you want to be a member of,” Torres said. “But the kind of support that I got was from my friends. I had very supportive friends and some not so supportive friends, but the friends who did help me helped a lot. That was key to making me feel okay with who I was.”

Home away from home

Ash Hall, a psychology senior and StandOUT co-director, said her organization promotes queer issues through advocacy and political activism.

“The culture of the space is one that gives students a break from sexism, homophobia and trans-phobia while allowing them to build community together,” Hall said. “It is an amazing, revolutionary space that makes lives on this campus happier and easier. Students can reliably come to the space and feel free of judgment and interact with their peers. They don’t have to hide any core parts of their identities.”

Hall said the center is significant for symbolizing the University’s goal of being an accepting campus for the LGBT community.

“It was a home away from home, something especially important to me after a semester at a homophobic university,” Hall, who transferred from Baylor University, said. “The center gave me a community, taught me how complex gender and sexuality really are, helped me develop my leadership skills and assisted me in finding a purpose in life centered around social justice.” 

Kennon Kasischke, biology and psychology senior and Queer Students Alliance director, said the center is a connection point between the student LGBT community and the University. Kasischke said by working with student organizations promoting equality for LGBT people, the center has a relevant sense of student concerns and initiatives and can help accomplish them.

“I want it to be more visible to students on campus but still be a safe space and make sure students feel safe,” Kasischke said. “The center is also a growing resource for women issues and the student body should see the value in what the center has to offer people interested in these issues.”

Visible and out

Whalley said although the University has made strides to create an inclusive campus environment through having the center and encouraging student expression through organizations, there is still room for improvement at a cultural level. 

Kasischke proposed legislation at Student Government last week in support of maintaining funding for the center through student tuition costs and keeping the center a priority of the University and student body. Kasisichke said this was prompted by recent legislation at the Texas Legislature and Texas A&M University’s Student Government Association aiming to stop funding a similar center.

The SG assembly will discuss the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting.

Whalley said when all students feel safe to express their gender and sexuality in public, the campus will be fully inclusive.

“I hear people say it is a private matter, but I don’t think heterosexuality is a private matter,” Whalley said. “People should be able to be visible and out. You can see couples on campus, but you don’t really see gay couples on campus. There should be more respectful curiosity with the LGBT community, the way there is with heterosexuality.”

Printed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 as: LGBT center stands out from other universities'

Updated at 11:02 PM on April 18, 2013

To conclude National Coming Out Week, student organization StandOut will be hosting a “Closet Door Signing” event meant to garner support for LGBT students Thursday.

Over the course of the week, various organizations hosted events aimed toward education on LGBT issues. Tuesday, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted a panel discussion about disclosing sexual orientation in the workplace. Wednesday, Shane Whalley, the center’s education and outreach coordinator, led a talk on how heterosexual students can support and serve as allies for LGBT students. The week of pro-LGBT events will culminate Thursday with the door signing.

The Closet Door Signing, which will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the East Mall, features a painted pink-and-purple wooden door students can sign to advertise their support for the LGBT community. According to StandOut secretary Matt Gracia, the signatures send a message to LGBT students on campus.

“Over the course of the day the closet door becomes a symbol of coming out for LGBT rights,” Gracia, a women’s and gender studies junior, said.

Although the door signatures serve a primarily symbolic purpose, the event will also involve political action. StandOut will have several computers set up so that students can contact legislators to communicate their support.

“We want students to call representatives in their district and say, ‘I support gay and transgender rights and you should too,’” Gracia said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights group, LGBT activists Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded the first-ever National Coming Out Day in 1988. UT student organizations started sponsoring celebratory events on campus more recently. Ana Ixchel Rosal, Gender and Sexuality Center director, said National Coming Out Day has been celebrated in some way at UT for at least eight years.

“This event has happened at least every year since I’ve been here,” Rosal said. “It’s coordinated differently every year.”

Although all of the week’s activities are meant to support LGBT students in general, they are also geared toward encouraging heterosexual students and elected officials to “come out” as allies in support of community issues. 

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: StandOut hosts Closet Door Signing

It is important for LGBTQ students to learn about the history and culture of the country in which they will be studying abroad and to think about these facts in relation to their sexual identity, said Laurie Young, program coordinator for the UT International Office.

A presentation on the issues and realities of studying abroad as a LGBTQ student was given on Monday as a partnership between the UT International Office and the Gender and Sexuality Center.

“Knowing the culture will affect how you view your own sexual orientation abroad,” Young said. “Cultures vary in their definitions of sexual identity and it really helps to research this before you get there.”

Young said she noticed the lack of resources and information available for LGBTQ students who want to study abroad and organized the presentation as part of the internship requirement for her master’s program.

“I wanted to leave something behind for UT,” Young said. “The goal of this presentation is to keep the conversation going and to help these students become successful.”

Young said the first time she studied abroad as an undergraduate was difficult because there were no resources available at her university for LGBTQ students.

“The second time I studied abroad I did a lot of research and it was a much better experience,” Young said. “I was able to open my mind to different perspectives and world views.”

Creating a support network of friends and family is also important for adjusting to the challenges of studying abroad and returning home as an LGBTQ student, Young said.

“Sometimes you can go abroad and the environment is very open and accepting,” Young said. “Having a support network is helpful when you come back to the U.S. and find it to be less accepting [than the country you visited].”

Shane Whalley, education and outreach coordinator for the UT Gender and Sexuality Center, presented research on the legal status of homosexuality, anti-discrimination and other gender-related issues of other countries as a resource for students to learn the laws of their host country.

“It’s surprising for some people to actually see what the laws are,” Whalley said. “We want to make students think about these different issues when they make plans to study abroad.”

Whalley said the most challenging issue for LGBTQ students is knowing how to handle their sexuality while they are studying abroad.

“You need to figure out how ‘out’ you can be in the host country,” Whalley said. “There are places you can go where this is no issue but other places where it is.”

Madeline Hayhurst, international relations and global studies sophomore, said the presentation brought up many issues she never thought about and reinforced the ideas she already had in mind.

“I recently came out,” Hayhurst said. “This information is helpful because I want to go to a country that doesn’t force me back into the closet.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Study abroad poses cultural, legal issues for LGBTQ students

The Gender and Sexuality Center sponsored an Ally-training session where 12 staff and students learned about GLBT terminology, misconceptions and ways to support the community.

The program was one of many events during 2011 Pride Week. To be a GLBT Ally means you have taken the Ally course, are aware of on- and off-campus GLBT resources, are familiar enough with terminology to be comfortable talking within the GLBT community, and sit with only positive regard for GLBT people, said Shane Whalley, the Center education coordinator and event speaker.

Whalley said many people in Austin fail to consider the struggles that GLBT people face because they assume discrimination doesn’t happen in such a liberal city.

“There have been two hate crimes on Fourth Street this year,” Whalley said. “By not being aware of these things, you can be putting a friend in harm’s way.”

Whalley said heterosexism is a problem within the GLBT community because it is ingrained in our society and is hard to get out of the minds of many people.

“I’ve never had someone come up to me and say, ‘Do you think so-and-so is heterosexual?’” Whalley said. “Heterosexism is this basic systemic practice that assumes that everyone is heterosexual.”

Gender and Sexuality Center director Ixchel Rosal said many people purposefully or accidentally cause GLBT people harm by ‘outing’ their sexual orientation.

“Someone’s sexual orientation is really confidential, and outing someone’s sexual identity can be doing them more harm than good,” Rosal said.

Rosal said the media often fails to accurately portray the GLBT community and other groups with whom it interacts.

“They tend to put media focus on faith communities that are not supportive of the GLBT community,” Rosal said. “There is a Christian left, and there is a Christian community that is very embracing of GLBT.”

Meg Helpin, who is at UT as part of Americorps VISTA, a national organization that fights poverty, said after experiencing Ally training, she thinks it would be good for people both inside and outside the GLBT community.

“It’s just awesome to learn about the available resources we have on campus and about the support the UT [GLBT] community receives through the UT non-discrimination policy,” Helpin said.