Facility is first of its kind among N. Texas universities; college also expands nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity
DENTON — LGBT students at the University of North Texas will now have a designated place on campus to find support and resources.
Gilda Garcia, vice president for institutional equity and diversity, said the idea for the center has been in the works for years as the campus’ LGBT population continued to grow, but the plan came up officially last month.
The response from the administration helped push the center’s creation along quickly, she said.
“There’s been tremendous growth in the LGBT student community,” Garcia said, adding that the student LGBT group, GLAD, is one of the largest student groups on campus. “In addition, there’s been work over a very long time by many people who had a vision for an LGBT center.”
A grand opening reception was held Oct. 11 in the center’s space on the third floor of Sage Hall. Artwork of students lined the walls and furniture from the student union will soon be added to furnish the space. Garcia said the timing of construction on a new student union allowed some of the supplies to be given to the new center.
And while the center is already open, she said funding has been allocated for a full-time LGBT coordinator, who will be hired in the near future. In the meantime, temporary staff will help run the center.
Pride Alliance is the fourth venue of its kind in the state.
UNT is the largest public university in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the fourth-largest university in Texas.
The three largest public universities in the state — Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston — have LGBT resource centers, though UT’s is called the Gender and Sexuality Center.
In North Texas, many colleges and universities have LGBT student groups and LGBT-specific programming. Last year administrators at the University of Texas at Arlington — the sixth-largest public university in the state — allocated $42,000 to expand LGBT programming with intern positions and peer volunteers.
Garcia said she wants Pride Alliance to bring resources, research projects and scholarship opportunities for LGBTQ students together in one location.
“We want it to be a place that supports and showcases the work of LGBT students, as well as providing them support and resources,” Garcia said. “We want this to be a place that can help someone through the questioning phase or someone who is dealing with the challenges of gender identity and perhaps transitioning.
This would be a place we could support them by connecting them to resources.”
Among the resources on campus are the LGBT archives at UNT’s library, which were collected with help from Resource Center and The Dallas Way. An exhibit opened this week, displaying items from the archives, which library staff began putting together more than a year ago.
Along with the center’s opening, the university also announced its expanded nondiscrimination policy that now includes gender identity and expression. It already included sexual orientation.
Garcia said the change was made last week after discussing how to revise the policy. She said updating the policy to include gender identity and expression “reflects where we already were.”
Pride Alliance’s opening comes several months after the Texas Legislature tried to defund LGBT resource centers at public universities with a bill authored by state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.
Mark Vosvick, co-director of UNT’s LGBT Studies Program, recalled the legislation and said the university took a stand by creating a space specifically for LGBT faculty and staff.
“I think what’s really also exciting just on the heels of less than half a year ago of Texas trying to stop money for LGBT centers, we sort of turned it around and said, ‘Hey, we want an LGBT center here. We want the Pride Alliance,’” he said. “That’s a big deal. When the whole state was going in one direction, the voices of our communities got together and stopped that direction, and we’re now taking it a step further.”
Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, said she hoped the center shows how much he university values the needs of the LGBT community. She said a campus climate survey on sexual orientation and gender identity last spring found that respondents who identified as heterosexual viewed the campus as very accepting while LGBTQ people viewed it as somewhat accepting.
“I’m more than hopeful that our new center will be a big step in the right direction,” With said.
Kathleen Shattuck, a junior who’s been involved with GLAD since her freshman year and is now the group’s president, said the organization has been part of the Multicultural Center but hasn’t had its own space until now.
“The fact that there’s an actual space for us means so much,” she said. “It’s just nice to be recognized as a community.”
Shattuck said many GLAD members sought out UNT because of its inclusive reputation, something the center will only help in the future.
“UNT already has a really great reputation for being really LGBT-friendly,” Shattuck said. “So having something official to say that instead of just word-of-mouth is going to do wonders for the university’s reputation.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 18, 2013.