University, student groups strive to make campus supportive of LGBT community
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 11:04
On the popular Facebook group Tufts Memes, an item was recently posted showing a desperate Snow White turning to alcohol because her Prince Charming is gay. The caption is “#tuftsproblems.”
While this is an obvious exaggeration, Tufts is known for its robust and open lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In 2006, Tufts was ranked among the 20 best schools for LGBT students in “The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students.”
One of the places where the queer community at Tufts is most visible is the Tufts LGBT Center, which is part of the Group of Six. The Group of Six comprises a collection of cultural centers whose goal is to promote diversity on campus.
The Center was first established in 1992 and was originally located in Lewis Hall. Today, the LGBT Center shares a location with the Latino Center at the Bolles House on College Avenue.
Tom Bourdon has been the director of the LGBT Center since September 2008, and he explained that the Center provides a wealth of resources and support for queer students at Tufts.
“I always say there are four things we offer as a Center and I work on as a director: advocacy, community building, general support and education for the entire campus on issues around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression,” Bourdon said. “As a space, this is somewhere where people can come to talk to staff members, get support if they are dealing with struggles or come just to hang out and feel comfortable knowing they can be themselves and have friendly people to talk to.”
The Center’s staff and its undergraduate interns emphasize that the Center provides a safe space for students.
“Our main objective is to be a safe space for all students, and education is secondary to that,” Emily Mears, staff assistant for the LGBT Center, said.
“I think that the Center is important mainly because it provides a space, especially a safe space, for students who identify as LGBTQ [Q standing for queer or questioning] who want to talk about issues, their social lives and academic lives and how their identity affects them every day,” junior Ben Serrano, an undergraduate intern at the LGBT Center, said.
Junior Katie Hegarty, also an undergraduate intern at the Center, added that the LGBT Center offers a variety of other resources for students of all sexual orientations.
“We have safe-sex materials, male condoms and internal condoms, dental dams, water-based lubricant, brochures on domestic and relationship violence and the dating scene on campus,” Hegarty said.
The Center also hosts various student discussion groups, including Queer Students of Color and Allies (QSOCA), Men’s Group, Women’s Group and Bisexual Students Group.
Although there is no official student group for transgender students at Tufts, Mears explained that the Center welcomes members of that segment of the Tufts student body.
“We do offer resources for trans students, but there are not any groups because we haven’t had a student come forward and make one,” Mears said.
Bourdon said that resources for transgender students include the new gender-neutral housing policy and several gender-neutral bathrooms, adding that he has worked with the registrar on issues pertaining to name changes and diploma changes in relation to gender identity.
“We also try to do a great deal of programming each year which is specific to trans identities or issues around gender identity and expression,” Bourdon said.
According to Bourdon, while the LGBT Center is primarily focused on LGBT students, allies are important as well.
“Our main focus is to support the LGBT community, but there is absolutely no way that this would be done without also working with the entire community at ensuring this to be a safe campus which understands the unique experiences and needs of the queer community,” Bourdon said.
Mears said the LGBT Center attracts about as many straight allies as LGBT students.
“I would say that it is [a] 50-50 spilt,” Mears said. “The LGBT Center is open for everyone. People assume it’s just for LGBTQ students, but we are trying to focus on making sure our straight allies feel comfortable as well.”
Recently, the Center has been focusing on events for GAYpril, including an open mic night, the Queer Straight Alliance’s (QSA) Annual Drag Show, Lavender Graduation and the Lavender Letter Campaign. The Lavender Letter Campaign was a weeklong program in which allies were encouraged to come to the Center to get a picture taken wearing a Lavender Letter and holding a sign explaining their reasons for aligning with the LGBT community.
“One of the things I am most excited about is our Lavender Letter Campaign,” Bourdon said. “There has been an amazing response from all over campus and we now have these beautiful photos, which
are a great symbol that shows how much support there is from queer and straight people alike on this campus.”
At the Center there are six undergraduate student interns, many of whom are also involved with other LGBT initiatives on campus.
Sophomore Mark Tyson, an undergraduate intern at the LGBT Center and co-President of QSA, explained that the appeal of the Center for him was the promise of a welcoming community.
“Initially, I got involved with the LGBT Center because I first came out when I got to Tufts and it was a way to be more of a part of this new community,” Tyson said.
For Hegarty, involvement with the LGBT Center as well as Team Q and QSA, helped define her queer identity.
“At first I took the job because I was really devoted to the cause as an ally. I believe LGBT rights are fundamental human rights and many of my friends were queer-identified,” Hegarty said. “It so happened that I also came to identify with the queer community myself. My involvement helped me develop my queer identity and helped me to realize that I want to do this type of work forever. It has been an affirming experience on multiple levels for me.”