Happy Campus Pride Month! April presents an annual opportunity to grow and to lead as individuals and as academic communities. Learning deep, ongoing lessons about ourselves and others positions us to employ academic and professional practices that are humane and inclusive.
Campus Pridea 501c3 that supports this work, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The organization’s purpose is to “Build future leaders and safer campus communities.” The organization champions a vision of “campuses and a society free of anti-LGBTQ prejudice, bigotry, and hate. It works to develop student leaders, campus networks, and future actions to create such positive change.”
Campus Pride Month celebrates an important history, and it invites us to do our internal work to create cultures of harmony, equity, inclusion, justice, and peace.
A 2017 survey conducted by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Public Radio finds that discrimination continues to impact LGBTQ Americans’ wellness, safety, and access to opportunities.
The survey finds: “Overall, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans report significant personal experiences of discrimination, across many areas of life. . . a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.”
The discrimination that many LGBTQ Americans experience may have implications for how they request vital services and apply for employment. The survey finds: “Roughly one in six LGBTQ people say they have avoided medical care (18%) and calling the police (15%), even when in need, due to concern that they would be discriminated against because of their LGBTQ identity. LGBTQ people of color are at least twice as likely as white LGBTQ people to say they have been personally discriminated against because they are LGBTQ when applying for jobs and when interacting with police, and six times more likely to say they have avoided calling the police ( 30%) due to concern for anti-LGBTQ discrimination, compared to white LGBTQ people (5%).
While equity in employment can be concerning among LGBTQ Americans, higher education can be an oasis. The survey finds: “Half or more of LGBTQ people believe that where they live, LGBTQ people have fewer employment opportunities (59%) and are paid less than non-LGBTQ people (50%), just because they are part of the LGBTQ community. However, LGBTQ people are less likely to perceive disparities in educational opportunities, and in fact roughly two-thirds of LGBTQ people were encouraged to apply for college while growing up.”
While it’s wonderful that nearly 70 percent of the LGBTQ people polled in the study were encouraged to pursue higher educational opportunities, it’s tragic and inhumane to find a viable place as a college student, only to lose that security and belonging in the professional world.
Creating and Affirming Safety in Learning Spaces
Campus Pride Month events confirm for LGBTQ students that they have a safe place on campus and a community that is committed to their support, education, and advocacy. Nadia Ibrahim-Taneyuniversity career coach and lecturer, points out: “Students benefit in the areas of leadership development, support programs and services that focus on creating safer, more inclusive LGBT-friendly colleges and universities. . . When one member of the campus community is valued , it benefits the entire campus.”
Many LGBTQ students carry emotional weight that marginalization tends to bring: uncertainty, discomfort, fear, trauma, etc. A campus-wide event like Pride Week aims to radiate the message that LGBTQ students belong here. They are important. They are seen. They are valued.
“As a higher education professional, it’s really important for me that my students feel seen and heard at my college,” Ibrahim-Taney shares. “I believe visibility and representation matters and the more opportunities I can show students that I care and am with them, the better the impact my teaching and student support has on them. Showing students we care and support them allows administrators to forge deeper, more personable relationships with students that really move the needle on student development and academic success/retention. Once students know we care, they care about what we can teach them and what ways we can help them grow.”
LGBTQ students need allies. They need their peers, their future colleagues, to hone this awareness. Doing so, learning the soft skills associated with creating cultures of inclusion, is a necessary skill for the modern workplace, especially for future leaders.
Creating on-campus opportunities to learn: to confront and own biases, to recognize discrimination, to hone the communication skills it takes to speak up for those who are experiencing discrimination, stand to seed vital lessons for the modern workplace where companies are increasingly devoted to equity and inclusion practices. Leading LGBT+ expert and author Chris Shane explains: “As discussed in my book ‘Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders,‘Students who have a foundational knowledge in inclusive behaviors and practices are at a significant advantage over others. They are better able to recruit top talent, better prepared to work with all types of clients/customers, and they are much more aligned with the majority of Americans and their values.”
Internalizing History’s Lessons
When we internalize the lessons our history teaches us, we can grow from those. But we can never forget those past events that shaped our understanding.
Shane reflects: “As I talk about in my book ‘The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion,’ teaching students about inclusion isn’t something we should be doing during a special month. Like Black history, LGBT+ history needs to be integrated throughout curricula year-round. Contributions are not occurring because someone was Black or LGBT+ but rather that part of what made them great was that aspect of their identity. Learners need to see themselves and others throughout their classes and lessons so that they see that they can achieve anything and so that they recognize the potential in their Black and LGBT+ peers too!”
Happy Campus Pride Month! May the occasion bring clarity, joy, cohesion, equity, and peace to your campus community.