Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I have written a list of steps you can take to improve life for LGBT faculty, staff, and students on your campus. (These are written for (heterosexual/gender-normative) allies, but many steps can also be taken by LGBT individuals as well.

Administrators can:
  • make sure that discussions of diversity on campus include sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression.
  • review their policies and practices in their own unit and across campus to make sure that they support LGBT faculty, staff, and students. For employees, these include bereavement and sick leave, domestic partner health care benefits, spousal accommodations in hiring, health benefits covering gender transition services, etc. Students need protections in classrooms, dorms, and on campus. If the policies and practices are not there, work for change.
  • seek out input from LGBT faculty, staff, and students on a regular basis. You won't know what people are facing unless you hear from them.
  • make sure LGBT folks are serving on committees across campus. 
  • make sure faculty who do LGBT research are supported and that their research is respected.
  • develop supportive services for LGBT students, who are among the most likely to drop out of school.
  • consider reaching out to LGBT alumni for information, student support, and financial contributions.
  • challenge homophobia, heterosexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Consistently interrupting bad behaviors and poor thinking makes a difference in a unit and on campus.
Faculty can:
  • make sure to include LGBT issues as they relate to the curriculum and the discipline. This is happening in humanities and social sciences, but even in math and the sciences, it matters. For example, biologists can tell students that same-sex behaviors are common in many species and discuss how these behaviors affect biological theories of sex based on reproduction; all scientists can discuss famous scientists who were/are LGBT people; let students know that there are local and national groups, like LA Gay and Lesbian Scientists, who support LGBT folks in the math and science fields.
  • let LGBT students find ways to investigate LGBT topics in classes, when appropriate. It may be the first time these students have a chance to investigate LGBT culture, history, and research.
  • support LGBT faculty peers who are (a) out to students and colleagues, as this is a very important service that brings with it a great deal of risk; (b) doing research on LGBT topics or populations, as this research is needed, under-resourced, and often not supported in tenure and promotion.
  • consider doing research or service that benefits local LGBT communities. Business faculty could partner with a local LGBT small business group to evaluate it; historians could present on LGBT people in history to local high schools or community groups; law schools could offer lectures on legal issues affecting parents of LGBT kids; social scientists could study political and social issues facing LGBTs in the local community or the state.
  • support LGBT-supportive policies and practices in your unit and the university as a whole.
  • volunteer to serve as advisor to LGBT student group(s) on campus. You don't have to be LGBT to serve in this role; actually, allies can learn a great deal from serving in this role, and it takes the onus off of the few LGBT folks on campus.
  • interrupt comments and behaviors rooted in discrimination and oppression, whether they are in the classroom, private conversations with peers, or committee meetings. Educate people when you can.
I would also add that everyone can think about the places we lack knowledge or comfort about sexuality and gender identity, and we can learn more about LGBT issues in society, especially the needs of LGBT faculty/staff/students. Every discipline has an LGBT group within their disciplinary organization(s), many of whom do presentations at your conferences. Also, administrative groups, like ACE, CUPA-HR, and NASPA, and advocacy groups, like AAUP, also have related discussions. Go to these presentations, even though they are outside your area of research/administrative/teaching interest. As someone who has done these presentations for more than 10 years, I can tell you that we are HAPPY to have you attend.

The most important point: You can make a difference in the lives of LGBT folks on your campus. Take a little step forward--it will pay dividends for years to come!

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