At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, diversity is our middle name. Along with the ethnic diversity of a 40 percent non-white student-body, UNCG is also home to a variety of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff members with different gender identities, sexual orientations, and expressions.
The LGBTQ+, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and plus community encompasses people from all different walks of life, many of whom have identities which intersect with marginalizations of race, ability and class. As a group facing discrimination, hate violence and micro-aggressions every day, sanctuaries of support are necessary for the physical, mental and emotional health of its members.
Here at UNCG, we want to advocate for our LGBTQ+ students in any way we can. One of the main sources of support comes from the Office of Intercultural Engagement. The OIE offers different programs, organizations and events to help promote awareness and understanding of everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
One of their organizations is called Safe Zone, a training program for members of the UNCG community — students, faculty and staff — to create Safe Zones in and out of the classroom, where every voice can be heard and respected. By creating these safe spaces, those who complete the training can help make the campus and community more inclusive and welcoming to all LGBTQ+ students. The Intercultural Resource Center and the Joyner room on the ground floor of the Elliott University Center are Safe Zones for everyone to use and enjoy.
Another organization, Confetti, connects LGBTQ+ and allied students together with the OIE to connect with others, create programs associated with the LGBTQ+ community and enhance their social justice leadership skills.
There are other student-lead groups who advocate for LGBTQ+ students, but one group of students in particular is distinct from the rest. We assume most of these resources are made for young undergraduate LGBTQ+ students who can use them to the fullest as they live on or nearby campus. But what about graduate students? They have tighter schedules and less time to spare for connecting with other LGBTQ+ graduate students. Luckily, the OIE supplied a solution.
The Queer Graduate Student Association, known as Q+, is a new addition to the OIE. Every month, LGBTQ+ graduate students and allies come together to relax and talk. This month’s event, the Q+ Dialogue ‘n’ Chill, occurred Wednesday evening in the Joyner room.
According to Kate Rawson, the graduate assistant for LGBTQ Advocacy and Outreach in the OIE, the program, “Is a very informal opportunity for queer and allied graduate students to come together and discuss what’s going on in our lives, how we feel LGBTQ+ relations are at UNCG, and other larger issues related to gender, sexuality and intersecting identities.”
Just like the name suggests, the ten or so graduate students and allies in attendance sat together, enjoyed pizza and talked. At the beginning of the program, the attendees were divided into three small groups and given questions to ask each other to stir up dialogue.
After a time, they all came together again to see what discussions were created among each group. Most of the conversations focused on discrimination, the intersection of sexual and gender identities with religious identities and support in working areas.
One attendee mentioned hostility towards LGBTQ+ students at their undergraduate institution. Their work relations were strained as a coworker expressed a desire for violence against anyone he found out was “gay.” They were also denied a lavender graduation because it was seen as discriminatory against other diverse groups of people.
For those who didn’t fully understand what a lavender graduation was, Rawson explained how Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian, could not attend her child’s graduation ceremony with her partner because they were lesbian. In order to combat discrimination for queer undergraduate students, she created lavender graduations to highlight the achievements of every LGBTQ+ student. Now, universities all over the country have them.
“We do it every semester here,” Rawson said.
The question of how religious, sexual and gender identities connect brought a good conversation. Some attendees faced obstacles with the lack of support from their families and churches. Luckily, there are churches on campus that are LGBT inclusive, such as College Park Baptist Church.
At the end of the Dialogue ‘n’ Chill, Kynnith Francis-Vaughn, the mastermind and organizer of the event, said, “I hope that you all can walk away with something that you didn’t come in with” and “feel like you can be supported here at UNC Greensboro.”
There are many support systems for LGBTQ+ members at UNCG. Diversity is a huge part of our community, and we strive to protect, rise up and advocate for everyone.