Queer Students Alliance

Members of UT’s Queer Students Alliance are working on legislation with the goal of convincing University administrators to expand health care benefits available for transgender students. 

Legislation author Devon Howard, women’s and gender studies junior, said the ultimate goal of the legislation is expanded medical services for transgender students, including hormonal treatments, gender reassignment surgeries and mental health counseling covered by the University.

“It’s really important that we address the needs of students and what they need to transition to not only feel comfortable with their body, but to be able to function and get a good education at the University,” Howard said. 

According to national nonprofit organization Campus Pride, many of UT’s peer universities, including the University of California system, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign cover hormone and gender reassignment services for students. 

UT does not offer these services because of the expenses associated with specialized medical care, according to Theresa Spalding, medical director for University Health Services. Spalding said the University does offer general medical care for all transgender students, including pap smears for students who identify as male, and said the University is committed to working with transgender students as much as possible.  

“It would be wonderful if we could provide all services to all patients, but we just don’t have the ability to do all that,” Spalding said. “Trying to be as gender neutral as possible is what we try to do.”

Spalding said the University does offer many resources for mental health to all students, including students who may be suffering from depression as a result of the stigmas associated with gender identity issues.

“Mental-health services wise, we have a lot that we offer,” Spalding said.

Currently, the insurance plan available for students to purchase, offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield, meets the minimum essential health requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance coverage for one year is $1,432 per student. 

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, the director of Human Resource Services, said employee healthcare coverage does not include gender reassignment. 

“Certain treatments may be covered if the absence of that treatment would cause a decline in their physical health,” Howarth-Moore said. “Gender reassignment in general is not currently covered because that is currently not considered medically necessary.”

Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance, said many students do not understand certain transgender students’ desire for sex-related surgeries.

“It’s not something most people can understand,” Kent said. “Nobody really understands the pain and the struggle [of] living in a body they feel like is not even their own.”

Howard said although some students may view gender reassignment surgeries as purely cosmetic, for some transgender individuals, medical intervention is a critical issue.  

“A lot of people see these surgeries as something that is elective and it’s not,” Howard said. “It’s something that needs to be done for survival.”

The alliance already passed a resolution for gender inclusive housing through Student Government, and Kent said she hopes SG members are equally receptive to the transgender health care benefits resolution. 

“We are definitely taking steps in the right direction, but transgender health benefits is our biggest focus,” Kent said. 

Once the resolution is  written, it will be sent to SG for a vote. If the resolution passes, it will be sent to the UT System Board of Regents, who are under no obligation to act.  

“It’s really problematic because we are ranked one of the most liberal and forward-thinking universities in the world, but we don’t have a lot of things other universities have,” Kent said. 

The alliance will hold a town hall meeting Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Room 420 in Waggener Hall for students to give their input on the resolution.

Update: This article has been clarified from the original version. Adrienne Howarth-Moore is the director of Human Resource Services, an office under University Operations which deals with employee health benefits.

Corrected: QSA member Devon Howard helps run Wednesday’s workshop on maintaining healthy relationships. The workshop was administered by Erin Burrows, who regularly speaks on the topic and relationship health in the LGBTQ  community.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s Queer Students Alliance began National Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a seminar focusing on defining healthy relationships Wednesday.

“No two relationships look the same, so domestic violence can be difficult to define, but it comes down to power and control,” said Erin Burrows, health education coordinator for Voices Against Violence, who led the presentation. “Domestic violence comes down to anytime you feel afraid of your partner, no matter the cause.” 

About 40 students worked in groups to answer questions such as, “What does healthy communication look/sound like?” and “How do you take care of yourself in a relationship?” 

English senior Tianhe “Zen” Ren, vice director of the alliance, said the goal of the event was to raise awareness about domestic violence within the LGBTQ community.

“A lot of domestic violence awareness focuses on heteronormative relationships,” Ren said. “We have to learn to recognize the signs of violence in LGBTQ relationships as well.” 

Burrows said domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships can be difficult to define.

“Especially if someone hasn’t come out to their family yet, their partner may use their sexual orientation against them with homophobia, transphobia, etc.,” she said. 

Burrows said physical or sexual violence is “just the tip” of the domestic violence iceberg, while verbal and emotional abuse often go unseen.

Ren said one step to reducing domestic violence would be to have more allies within the LGBTQ community promoting education and awareness. 

“People feel uncomfortable coming to the Gender Studies Center or to QSA meetings because they feel others will assume they’re LGBTQ,” she said. “We just want more people to be aware and become allies for students who are LGBTQ.” 

The group’s treasurer Rogelio Meza said an ally is anyone who personally supports the LGBTQ community.

“We want to educate people and bring awareness to the community,” Meza said. “It makes me happy to see non-LGBTQ students at our meetings supporting us and being willing to learn more.”

Meza said support is about more than just acceptance — it also means becoming more educated. He said sex education in schools often focuses only on heterosexual relationships.

“We want to bring LGBTQ awareness to the general populace as well as to LGBTQ students themselves,” he said. “Not everyone is the same and that’s a beautiful thing.”

The LGBT community is present every day, but Pride Week is a chance to unify this community with other students. 

Allies and members of the LGBT community hosted Pride Week on campus this week to educate the larger student body on issues relating to the LGBT community.

“I think a big component has been education: helping people become more aware of differing LGBT identities, what it means, what different things are to different people and how that’s negotiated in the community,” Qyle Jerro, vice director of the Queer Students Alliance, said.

Jerro said there are around 20 different queer organizations on campus, and Pride Week is a time to unify them as one.

“A huge component of UT Austin Pride Week is to promote visibility of the queer community on campus with the hopes of it promoting education and inclusion to all students at this university,” Kennon Kasischke, director of the Queer Students Alliance, said. 

Pride Week has been a tradition at UT since 2006 when Student Government incorporated the Queer Student Alliance in its organization.

The week began in Gregory Plaza with a kick-off celebration including both LGBT-affiliated organizations and groups such as University Democrats and Voices Against Violence.

Jerro said Ally Training on Tuesday taught non-LGBT students terminology and how to be respectful and supportive of people’s different identities. 

Ally Day, sponsored by the Diversity and Equity Student Action and Advisory Council on Wednesday, was for organizations to table and demonstrate the meaning of being an ally for students.

The Diversity and Equity Student Advisory and Action Council provides responses to student concerns about social justice on campus. Samantha Robles, the organizer of the event, said she hopes Pride Week teaches students more about the organization and opens up the campus, allowing students to discuss things other communities do not often talk about, such as bisexuality and trans-identities.

“I think [this week shows] all of the present identities one person can embody,” Robles said. “You can be proud of any of those identities.”

Students around campus will raise a rainbow-colored flag this week in efforts to promote a stronger and safer LGBT community on campus.

Today marks the beginning of Pride Week, a week-long educational awareness campaign meant to unite the University’s LGBT community and provide a comfortable place for people to talk about their sexuality. Kent Kasischke, deputy director of the Queer Students Alliance, said this year’s Pride Week is a lot bigger than it has been in the past, encompassing more than 15 events and featuring undergraduate students, graduate students and UT alumni.

Pride Week is highlighting two events happening today starting with a “Word! Your Language Matters” workshop by Voices Against Violence at 6 p.m. The Federation of Lesbian, Ally and Gay Sports will also host a dodgeball tournament.

Queer Students Alliance, a Student Government agency, hosts Pride Week every year in conjunction with many LGBT organizations on campus. Kasischke said his agency has been working on Pride Week all semester, and he encourages people to go out to the events.

“One of the things about Pride Week is that people feel the events are restricted to LGBT individuals, but we’re very open to any allies,” Kasischke said.

Kasischke said one of the events he worked hard on is a blood drive occurring Wednesday sponsored by the Queer Students Alliance, American Medical Students Association and University Democrats. He said many do not know the U.S. restricts gay men from giving blood because, according to the CDC, men who have sex with men have a higher risk of catching HIV.

“I may not be able to give blood, but you can give blood for me,” Kasischke, who identifies as a gay male, said. “I would love to give blood. I want to inform people and help them understand the struggle I face.”

Kasischke said SG allocated $4,000 to the organization this year, of which about $1,500 goes to the cost of Pride Week. Since the organization partners with others to host the event, Kasischke said, many of them provide their own funding for their events.

Printed on Monday, April 16, 2012 as: Pride Week unites diferent UT student organizations