Hopkins students gathered in Charles Commons last Saturday to celebrate the official launch of the Hopkins LGBTQ Life Program.
In the midst of LGBT History Month and days before National Coming Out Day this Friday, the event included speeches by President Ronald J. Daniels, Associate Professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health Joanne Rosen, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger and the University’s new director of LGBTQ Life Demere Woolway.
The launch of this program, however, will only add to the variety of LGBTQ organizations that already exist on campus.
Current LGBTQ groups at Hopkins include the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA), Out in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (oSTEM), the Gertrude Stein Society and the Peabody Gay-Straight Alliance.
According to sophomore Erika Rodriguez, a student leader within the LGBTQ group DSAGA, more and more straight students are joining every year to offer support for the cause.
“I’ve always felt quite confident and secure in holding my partner’s hand on campus,” Rodriguez wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Hopkins has been making massive strides in LGBTQIA issues on campus.”
Groups, such as DSAGA, see high student participation. According to senior Joseph Puma, the president of DSAGA, meetings draw between 50 and 60 participants. He noted that the students most active in DSAGA are often underclassmen.
“The people more involved tend to be the younger students on campus, as they are still coming out and becoming more comfortable with their sexuality,” Puma wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Older members tend to selectively come to meetings, but we constantly see freshmen interested in coming to meetings and getting involved.”
The rising number of LGBTQ organizations — and members of LGBTQ organizations — led to the creation of a new post, director of LGBTQ life, and the appointment of Woolway as the inaugural holder of that title. Woolway, who joined the University community this past July, explained that her position was created in order to fill the needs of the growing community and establish an institutional home for LGBTQ programming.
“A campus that is LGBT-friendly is one that has policies and practices that are supportive and inclusive. Where people don’t make assumptions about sexual orientation or gender identity. Where there is visible support for the LGBTQ community,” Woolway wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Woolway’s position as the director of LGBTQ life represents part of an ongoing effort at Hopkins to expand the organizational infrastructure of the LGBTQ community.
Woolway is seeking to build on the experience she has already accumulated at other universities, including the University of Virginia and Washington State University, in order to make Hopkins as inclusive as possible.
“My goals as director of LGBTQ life at Hopkins are to provide support, education and advocacy for LGBT individuals. . .I want to advocate for a better climate,” Woolway wrote.
Woolway became interested in LGBTQ life on university campuses when, as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, she participated in a program in which students identifying as LGBTQ spoke about their experiences with other students. The program, Woolway said, was just as important to those students sharing their stories as it was to the students listening and that fact inspired her to significantly more involved in LGBTQ life.
One of the ways in which Woolway plans to promote a more inclusive, LGBT-friendly community at Hopkins is through the creation of new LGBT-centered programs on campus.
One such program launched this fall is SafeZone, which aims to educate students — primarily straight supporters — on how to be effective allies of the LGBTQ community. Attendees of SafeZone are led through workshop sessions in which they participate in discussions and activities regarding pertinent LGBT-related topics.
Woolway believes that SafeZone will address a critical issue in the University’s LGBTQ community. She sees the LGBTQ community as not being visible enough; though support is available in abundance for LGBT individuals at Hopkins, many students are unaware of the community’s vibrancy.
“At Hopkins, LGBT folks generally don’t feel threatened, but there is an unfortunate lack of visibility of the LGBTQ community, and of people who are supportive of LGBT folks,” Woolway wrote. “SafeZone will work to address this by providing stickers for people to show their support as allies of the LGBTQ community.”
Another relatively new LGBTQ initiative at Hopkins is the group JHU Pride, a network of Hopkins alumni that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The group was launched last spring in order to connect Hopkins alumni with current students and foster a greater sense of community.
Bill Kirst, who graduated in 2000, founded the JHU Pride network and is working to enlarge its community by increasing awareness of the group on Homewood.
“This would be mainly through hosting events here at Johns Hopkins, and by hosting events in other cities,” Kirst said. “We hosted an event in San Francisco during Pride this year, which fell on the day that DOMA was struck down. It was very exciting to be there, very historic.”
Kirst hopes that the group will continue to thrive for years to come.
“In the future, I see this becoming a very robust affinity group,” Kirst said. “It will be on the same footing as many other groups in other institutions in terms of embracing one Hopkins. One of the great things about Hopkins is that we are as good as we are because of our diverse ideas and backgrounds, and this is one part of bringing your entire self to the community.”