LGBTQ students discuss finding community and belonging on campus

By NATALIE WALLINGTON and JOHN FRYE | October 25, 2018

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Members of the Hopkins LGBTQ community marched in the 2018 Baltimore Pride Parade, an annual celebration of diverse sexualities and genders.

Since the 2016 presidential election, many have worried that victories and protections for LGBTQ individuals secured under the Obama administration would be repealed. Some of these policies include the legalization of gay marriage, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and expanded coverage of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Over the past two years, the number of anti-LGBTQ groups has increased, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. On Monday, The New York Times obtained a memo revealing that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender and sex solely based on genitalia at birth. In light of increased anxiety about the national climate, The News-Letter spoke with five students who identify as LGBTQ about their experiences on campus. 

For sophomore James Dweck, who identifies as transgender, anti-LGBTQ sentiments from the Trump administration have not affected his experience at Hopkins.

“It might just make it scarier to be trans, [but] I don’t think that would just be in Baltimore, I think that would be everywhere,” he said. “If the government actively changing to be transphobic, that empowers people who are already transphobic or homophobic to air their opinions.” 

Similarly, sophomore Ian Waggoner, who identifies as gay, feels that Hopkins cultivates a supportive environment for LGBTQ students. Waggoner emphasized that he has never experienced or seen any instances of homophobia on campus and that all of his professors are very supportive. 

He expressed approval of the quantity of resources offered by the University.

“There’s a pretty good support system,” Waggoner said. “There are definitely a myriad of different [resources].”

One of the main resources available to LGBTQ students is the Office of LGBTQ Life. Founded in 2013, the Office provides educational materials and support for LGBTQ students. Director of LGBTQ Life, Demere Woolway wrote in an email to The News-Letter about the Office for LGBTQ Life’s recent advocacy for the inclusion of less-visible identities within the LGBTQ spectrum.

“We have meetups for asexual people, trans/non-binary folks, LGBTQ people of color and more,” Woolway wrote “Additionally, we try to make sure that those identities are visible in the trainings and events that we hold.”

Through these new efforts and partnerships within the University, Woolway hopes to provide both a supportive network for all LGBTQ students and a way to inform the general student body about identities that fall beyond the commonly recognized labels of gay, lesbian and bisexual. 

“We have worked to provide Safe Zone trainings to a wide variety of audiences to give them the tools to be welcoming to LGBTQ students,” Woolway wrote. “We have also been able to partner on policy changes like trans-inclusive health care benefits, preferred names in computer systems and gender inclusive housing. I hope these things (and others) make students feel welcome.”

Though Waggoner appreciates that LGBTQ resources are offered, he generally does not attend LGBTQ groups or use these resources.

“I haven’t really had a need for it,” Waggoner wrote. “You only have so much time as a college student and you kind of want to prioritize your close friends instead of getting a bunch of acquaintances.”

Sophomore Michael Vidal, who identifies as pansexual, expressed similar feelings. Although he said that the University does offer a number of resources to LGBTQ students, these resources are not always accessible or well-known.

“A lot of people don’t know about [the network of resources offered]; it goes very under the radar,” Vidal said. “For example, the LGBTQ Life office — like, where is that? I know there’s DSAGA and oSTEM, and that’s it.”

Other students believe the University has more work to do in order to fully support Hopkins’ LGBTQ community. Senior Chris Reinhardt, who identifies as transgender and is president of the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA), believes that the University could be more responsive to the concerns of its LGBTQ student population.

“The administration should really get around to changing SIS, specifically, so that you can [input] your preferred name,” Reinhardt said. “As it stands right now, your legal name is in there — which I understand it needs to be as well — but on the class roster, your legal name will appear alongside your preferred name. So you could be outing yourself as trans right from the moment you step into class.” 

Reinhardt also emphasized that while Hopkins provides a generally supportive environment, some discriminatory attitudes still exist amidst the student body. 

“I’ve definitely walked around and heard people say different things that indicate they’re not friendly towards gay people or they’ve made jokes towards trans people,” he said.

Dweck also stated that there are areas where the administration can do more to support LGBTQ people. In particular he pointed to his experience using bathrooms on campus and his interactions with security guards. 

“I still don’t feel safe using the correct bathroom — the bathroom that aligns with my gender identity,“ he said. “I have to explain to the security guard that I’m transgender because my name comes up differently in the system when he’s searching for it. Things like that people don’t really think about.”

Other students feel that their sexualities may not be fully understood by the student body at large. One sophomore, who is referred to as Megan in this article, asked to remain anonymous. The News-Letter granted anonymity since Megan identifies as asexual and is not out to the people in her life.

“There’s no space on campus that’s an asexual safe zone,” she said. “Especially with Hopkins culture, PDA is all around, and there are some people, including myself, who identify as asexual, and PDA makes me uncomfortable.”

Megan noted that, while it is difficult to stop others from publicly displaying their affections to their partners, she wishes more people understood how asexual students feel about their actions.

“There’s no way to say, ‘Hey, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m asexual, please stop.’” she added. “People are like, ‘You just have to deal with it…’ Other than ignoring it, there’s nothing you can really do.”

Vidal also spoke about misunderstandings surrounding his pansexuality. In his experience, only other LGBTQ students are generally aware of his identity.

“Usually, individuals who are not aware are kind of limited to knowing gay, lesbian and bi, and now trans is coming back, but as far as everything else, not really,” Vidal said. “Usually people are like, ‘Pan, what is that?’ and I have to explain it... I’m pretty sure people just assume I’m gay.”

Waggoner suggested that the University could consider implementing a training or orientation program to educate students about diverse sexualities and gender identities as they arrive at Hopkins.

“I feel like it could clear up misconceptions people have,” he said.

Alongside administrative action, many LGBTQ students feel that their peers have a role to play in promoting identity awareness. They emphasize that in order to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, students should seek out opportunities to educate themselves on LGBTQ related issues.

“When I told someone I was asexual, they said that it was probably because I hadn’t kissed the right person yet. People have tried to kiss me though, and people have tried to do certain things, but that’s not something that appeals to me,” Megan said. “Just being understanding and supportive and not undermining the person by saying, ‘Oh, you haven’t done this yet,’ is a good way to ally.”

Vidal agreed that awareness of diverse identities is an important first step in allyship among the student body.

“Just be generally aware of what pansexual means and understand how that expresses itself,” he said. “I feel like a lot of the ways in which people don’t understand it extends to bisexuality — that whole idea of someone being confused about their sexuality.”

Through changing administrative policies and actions on the part of students, many see Hopkins becoming an increasingly tolerant university for LGBTQ individuals. Though certain challenges remain for some, Reinhardt emphasized how much the experiences of many LGBTQ students have improved over time.

“I’ve seen the effects of Safe Zones and more and more Safe Zone stickers popping up, which is fantastic, which is something LGBTQ Life does. I’ve seen other things, like more gender neutral bathrooms. I’ve seen professors asking pronouns. I’ve seen the Rec Center implementing LGBTQ pool parties,” he said. “Overall, the atmosphere is changing and it is getting better for all students.”

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