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U-wide GLBT commission appointed
Group will monitor gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues
By Gayla Marty
From Brief, November 3, 2004
The phone meeting was scratchy, relatively short, and historic.
The University-wide Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Commission met by conference call for the first time October 21. Fifteen of the 24 members representing four of the five campuses were on the line. They overcame what looked like a vintage 1970s conference phone to talk to each other and plow through the agenda.
They see far greater challenges in the future.
While hate crimes in general have decreased nationally in recent years, those reported based on sexual orientation and gender identification have increased significantly. On college and university campuses, hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identification represent nearly 40 percent of reported cases.
What's more, anti-GLBT hate violence rose 24 percent in the six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Lawrence vs. Texas--clear evidence of a backlash, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. At the University of Minnesota, the GLBT Programs Office on the Twin Cities campus received four times more reports and concerns about a hostile, unwelcoming campus environment during fall semester 2003 than the previous spring semester.
Serving the campus
GLBT offices serve not only persons who identify themselves as such, but also friends of GLBT individuals, students who have GLBT parents, and those who participate in programs to increase their understanding and tolerance for differences related to sexual orientation and gender identification. An estimated 50 percent of men and 75 percent of women are primarily or exclusively heterosexual; the rest may, under some circumstances, come under the GLBT umbrella.
--Source: Report of the University of Minnesota GLBT Task Force, Part Two, April 30, 2004
"What does that mean?"
Gay: a term to describe people attracted to members of the same gender.
Lesbian: a woman whose primary physical, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction is to other women.
Bisexual: a person who is romantically and physically attracted to both men and women. Bisexuals...need not have had any sexual experience to identify as bisexual.
Transgender: an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. It may be used to include (but is not limited to) transsexuals, intersex people, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people, who may nor may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically. Use the term preferred by the transgender person.
Coming out: a lifelong process of self-acceptance.
Queer: traditionally a pejorative term for non-heterosexuals, the word has been appropriated by some GLBT people to describe themselves.
Terms to avoid
Homosexual: a dated clinical term.
Lifestyle: often used to denigrate the lives of lesbians and gay men; there is no one heterosexual lifestyle; there is no one lesbian or gay lifestyle.
--Source: Terminology courtesy of the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Preparing to respond
The commission is the first major outcome of a task force on GLBT issues that filed a report April 30. As an administrative committee, not part of the Senate or governance, it reports to Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration. Jones sent his regards to the group through interim chair June Nobbe, along with authority to formally appoint them. Commission members include faculty and staff members, students, alumni, and community representatives of Crookston (3), Duluth (4), Morris (4), Rochester (2), and the Twin Cities (10).
"I am so pleased that we now have--rather than a task force--a standing commission," Nobbe told the group as she convened the meeting. "It's been a real honor to work on this."
The new commission's primary charge is to carry out recommendations of the April report, which included campus-specific sections on GLBT concerns and climate.
"There are going to be issues that we need to be prepared to respond to," said David Johnson, an alumnus and former staff member on the Twin Cities campus. "They will be high profile."
Visibility, resources, access, and more
In the commission's first meeting, members introduced themselves and discussed structure, working groups, and priorities, which include
- enhancing GLBT visibility, resources, and access
- continuing to identify needs of GLBT people on the campuses, as well as other groups, such as students who come from GLBT families
- continuing to assess the work environment for GLBT employees
- renewing a commitment to a GLBT studies program
Visibility for GLBT resources on the Duluth campus just improved, as both the Queer Student Center and GLBT Services moved with the Multicultural Learning Resource Center offices to the renovated second floor of Kirby Student Center. At Morris and the Twin Cities, location continues to be on the fringes, with offices located in a basement (Morris) and the low-profile and hard-to-get-to Klaeber Court (Minneapolis). The Twin Cities campus Queer Student Cultural Center, however, is centrally located in Coffman Union.
At Crookston, GLBT services are part of Counseling and Career Services. And in Rochester, students may contact student services director Kendra Weber; there's also a student group they are welcome to attend.
GLBT Programs Office
Office of Student Affairs
138 Klaeber Court
GLBT Student Services
Counseling and Career Center
270 Owen Hall
Multicultural Learning Resource Center
245 Kirby Student Center
P.O. Box #45SC, UMM
150 Student Services
The Twin Cities campus is home to the University's oldest GLBT programs office, established in 1993. Support from that office has been important and often critical to offices and advocates on the other campuses. Founding director Beth Zemsky, who served until 2003, is teaching GLBT 1001 this semester. She and the current director, B. David Galt, are also on the commission.
Morris has made major strides in the past ten years to develop a welcoming climate for GLBT persons, including crowning a gay Homecoming king and queen in 2001, celebrating Pride Week, and sponsoring a theater production of The Laramie Project about the murder of Matthew Shepherd in 1998--but with heated resistance from the campus and community, including campus hate crimes. The campus has had to become engaged in the community, with strong leadership from the chancellor and other campus faculty and staff.
On the Duluth campus, a national survey showed 54 percent of GLBT students reporting that their classrooms and campus work places accepted them as GLBT persons, while half felt that the campus had visible leadership about sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet 42 percent rated the overall campus climate as homophobic, and 35 percent concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation.
In the same survey, the percentage at the Twin Cities campus that concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation was even higher. And 33 percent of GLBT persons reported fearing for their physical safety based on their sexual orientation. Nearly 80 percent reported discrimination or harassment at the U based on their sexual orientation.
Ryan Owens helped to found Crookston's Ten-Percent Society student group in 2001, which includes straight student allies. Now in a graduate program in Nebraska, he is an alumni representative to the commission.
"The overall atmosphere improved while we were at Crookston, but now the core members have all either graduated or transferred," Owens said; two key faculty and staff members have left as well. "My concern is that the visibility of GLBT issues and community will not be as strong. It's hard to come out on a small campus. It's important to make sure that visibility is part of orientation and prospective student programs."
The long view
It helps to keep a longterm perspective.
"You have to understand how far we've come," said Lisa Albrecht, a faculty member in the College of Human Ecology. "Twenty years ago, there were only a couple of us who were really out and visible. We got calls whenever there was anything related to these issues--from departments, from administration, from the paper. And if we did get quoted somewhere, we got hate calls. To have a commission...this is progress."
Next time, the group agreed, they hope to meet in person.
The full report of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Task Force, presented April 30, 2004, is available to download from the Web at http://www.umn.edu/glbt/StandWithUs/pdfs/TaskForceReport.pdf (PDF).