Ixchel Rosal

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

Gender neutral bathrooms may be included in new campus buildings in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities, parents, and people with non-normative gender identities.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

The choice between using a men’s or women’s restroom isn’t conscious for most, but an effort to provide gender-neutral, one-stall bathrooms in all campus buildings will help meet the needs of people with disabilities, parents and people with non-normative gender identities, a UT official said.

Linda Millstone, the associate vice president for the Office of Institutional Equity and Workforce Diversity, is leading the effort to ensure each campus building has at least one gender-neutral restroom for every five floors. Millstone said she went to the Building Advisory Committee with the idea to include gender-neutral restrooms in the blueprints of all new campus buildings, and they agreed. She said Pat Clubb, vice president for University Operations, agreed to fund the installation of gender-neutral restrooms in all existing campus buildings as well.

“Most buildings already have one or two single-stall restrooms, so it has been as easy as taking down the male or female sign and installing a lock on the door,” Millstone said.

Millstone said gender-neutral restrooms benefit a number of different people, including GLBT-identified persons, people with disabilities and people with medical conditions such as diabetes who need a private place to administer medication.

“If I am a woman in a wheelchair and my attendant is a male, where am I supposed to go?” Millstone said. “I identified this problem and immediately several committee individuals were willing to help with the project.”

Gender and Sexuality Center Director Ixchel Rosal said Millstone asked members of the center to locate all existing gender-neutral campus bathrooms. She said the list of restrooms is posted on their home page.

“It’s actually out-of-date,” Rosal said. “We went to every single building on campus and looked at every single public-access restroom. The plan is to update the list by the end of this summer.”

Rosal said the restrooms offer privacy to students who identify their gender in ways that may make using a men’s or women’s restroom uncomfortable or dangerous.

“If someone goes into a restroom and is not perceived as belonging to that restroom, they may be negatively impacted,” Rosal said. “These are issues of safety.”

Computer science senior Aria Bellows, who identifies as a trans woman, said she believes the enforcement of building gender-neutral restrooms is a breakthrough for the GLBT-identified community.

“I don’t typically use them myself,” Bellows said. “But for the life of transgender students on campus, they are very important. Some days you can be worried about how people will see you in either [restroom].”

Bellows said she normally uses women’s bathrooms, but the gender-neutral ones are helpful in situations that all students might face.

“They’re great if you need to change,” Bellows said. “It’s so much more convenient for people, and there are so many different reasons why you would like to have them around.”

Steven A. Kraal, senior associate vice president for the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management, said some buildings are not appropriate for the incorporation of gender-neutral restrooms. However, Kraal said he is committed to meeting the facility needs of as many people as possible.

Natural Sciences senior Chelsea Shipp said she really appreciates when women choose to take their young sons into the gender-neutral restrooms instead of the public women’s restrooms.

“I’ve seen women take 8-year-old boys into the women’s restroom, and it starts to feel very uncomfortable,” Shipp said.

Printed on 07/25/2001 as: Campus to offer gender-neutral toilets

The Student Services Budget Committee approved new allocations of money from student fees to five University organizations who displayed particular needs, the committee’s former chairwoman said.

Former Student Government Vice President Muneezeh Kabir, who chaired the committee, said the nine-member group of students and faculty reviewed budget requests last year from 17 university centers, offices and programs vying for added funding, Kabir said. She said the committee decided to use money from the SSBC’s reserved funding to support programs that seemed most beneficial to the University and those in most need of financial assistance.

“People would come and give detailed presentations about how their programs contributed to the University and why they needed funding,” Kabir said. “I would say that recommendations were reflective of who we felt needed our funding most.”

The committee will distribute funding to the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Forensics Program, the Counseling and Mental Health Center, the shuttle bus system and the Office of Student Financial Services’ Bevonomics program, Kabir said. She said funding will be distributed Sept. 1 — the beginning of the fiscal year.

The SSBC distributes about $42 million in student fees each year. Funding to all other organizations SSBC allocates student fees to retained their previous funding levels. Groups include the Campus Environmental Center, Texas Student Media and Student Government.

Once the committee finalized its recommendations, it submitted them to Vice President of Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez for approval, which he gave in May. The recommendation became official last week.

Gender and Sexuality Center Director Ixchel Rosal said the funding from student fees have been the only source of income to run the center and expand it. She said she went before the committee last spring to ask for their continued support.

“I shared with them our current budget, talked about trends and things that we were noticing in the new space. They helped us get at the new Student Activities Center,” Rosal said.

Rosal said the center will receive $10,000 from the SSBC to be distributed in two increments at the beginning of each of the next two fiscal years. She said the center has seen an increase in student traffic, and the money will help hire student workers to help incoming students.

Jane Morgan Bost, associate director for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said the center has received an increased number of visitors since an on-campus shooting Sept. 28. She said the center asked the council for funds to be able to handle more students.

“The funding will help us hire more workers to help students find the help they need through a system called triaging,” Bost said. “Through the system, we do a quick assessment of students who walk in here, find out what it is that they need and explain to them what we offer.”

Many students go to the center needing long-term counseling, while the center offers sessions that are meant to council students that need immediate assistance but do not require continuous sessions, Bost said.

She said the triage system cuts down on waiting time and prevents students from having to talk to multiple people before they find the assistance they need.

Gonzalez said some years the University does not have funds to add to the SSBC reserves. He said the recommendations from the SSBC were well thought out and did not require too much spending on their behalf.

Gonzalez said before approving the recommendations he consulted with his Associate Vice President Donna Bellinghausen and spoke with representatives of a number of organizations that will receive the money.

“I made no changes but had several considerations to address before I made the final approval,” Gonzalez said.
Kabir said Gonzalez was not able to approve the committee’s request for a 10th member.

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.