LGBT Resource Center rich reserve of support

by ERIN FLINDERS

Located on the skeletal fourth floor at the University of Utah’s Union Building, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center is a room squeezed tight with computers, couches and funky lights. A library fills one wall. Information pamphlets, invitations and offers cover every bit of table space.

Bonnie Owens, a senior majoring in gender studies, has been an intern at the Resource Center for three years. She said the space used to be a fraction of what it is now, “literally, a closet.” The Center was formally dedicated in April 2002, but has just recently been moved to the upper, still unfinished, fourth floor of the Union.

Now, one formal office sits in the midst of many makeshift ones. Cathy Martinez is director of the Center and resident of that office. A U alumna, she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.

After obtaining her master’s degree, Martinez went into private practice and began working with the LGBTQ population as a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City. Her education and 10 years of experience in the field of social work made Martinez a top candidate when the director position at the Resource Center opened in May 2007.

She said she feels “honored to be part of the center,” and part of the community working for equality. David Daniels and Jeremy Yamashiro, both interns who agreed to the interview, nod their heads in agreement. Everyone here is involved with other LGBTQ educational, activist and support groups as well, and takes these associations earnestly.

Yamashiro, for example, is a member of the Queer Student Union (QSU) and Queer Students of Color (QSoC), both university student groups. QSoC was founded two years ago to educate people of color about queer issues and queer people about the “colored experience.”

In addition, Yamashiro said QSoC functions as a support group, “address[ing] some of the issues that queer people who come from ethnic minorities are having to deal with that might be different from mainstream gay issues.”

Bonnie Owens is former co-president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union. She has also spent a lot of her time at the U promoting and addressing LGBTQ issues.

Her latest effort was October’s (2007) Pride Week celebration titled “Culture with a Q.” Owens contacted Andrew Jolivette, assistant professor of American Indian studies and a teacher in the Ethnic Studies Program at San Francisco State University. He agreed to speak on LGBTQ issues at two larger events, the “Gay-la” fund-raising dinner and silent auction, and was the week’s keynote speaker.

The week was full of smaller events coordinated by Owens and hosted by the Resource Center. A panel of politicians and representatives gathered at the Hinckley Institute of Politics to discuss the passage of Amendment 3. The Pooch Pride Dog Parade and Queerprov, an improvisational show, also were added to this year’s calendar of events.

Some events were very popular, while others had to be cancelled due to low attendance. “This [was] different from any other Pride Week we’ve ever done,” Owens said. In the past we’ve focused on only big events. This year we saturated the week with events, and [overall] it is the most successful year we’ve had.”

The Resource Center’s Web site is another way people can obtain information about LGBTQ issues. Close to 160 community, education, political and need-based links are “the result of a five-year collaboration,” Owens said.

The Queer Peers program is available electronically through the Resource Center’s Web site as well. Queer Peers allow students to send an e-mail to staff at the Center or make confidential comments. This anonymity encourages communication from students who would have been silent otherwise. Martinez said the discussions range from “where can I find LGBTQ resources in Utah?” to “I’ve been kicked out of my home, where can I go?”

Discrimination at home and the workplace is an all-too-common reality. To combat this, the Resource Center employs a trained facilitator who travels to businesses to educate employees about LGBTQ issues and provides Safe Zone trainings.

A group of seven or more people, or any staff member of a company with an interested group of seven or more can call the Resource Center and request one of the three-hour training sessions. 

By talking “about queer history, terminology, questions about who can say what,” and doing “some interactive activities about discovering your own personal biases, community biases and things like that,” Owens and Martinez hope to foster more understanding, awareness and mobilize more straight allies.

The U has a healthy track record as an LGBTQ ally. According to an August 2006 press release, The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students rated the school as one the 100 best campuses for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The rating reflects the availability of resources and the campus’ ability to create a positive living and learning environment for LGBT students.

David Daniels, one of the Center’s three interns, moved to Utah after living in New Jersey and New York. He said he doesn’t remember LGBT issues being covered by the media a lot in those cities. He said there are fewer media outlets in Utah, but he has seen more coverage since moving to Salt Lake.

Daniels points to publications like The Pillar and QSaltLake, alternative media that, he said, “are specifically for the queer community.” He said he reads City Weekly because they “are inclusive of everyone.” Daniels said it is good when these publications “sometimes reach out of your home base” and “start a conversation.”

Media that reach a larger audience are important to the LGBT community. Good media coverage of issues affecting the population is rare and stories are not always balanced. The Salt Lake Tribune is a mainstream newspaper that recently covered Pride Week events.

In a story headlined “RSVP: Your guide to Utah’s social scene and the people who make a difference,” the paper featured a photograph of the keynote speaker Jolivette standing with Martinez at the “Gay-la dinner.” Any publicity is good, but Jolivette was misidentified in the photo caption.

Despite these occasional mistakes, LGBTQ Utahns have had some good coverage. But, Martinez said, “there’s the other side where [the media] will tend to depict certain people or certain organizations in a bad light.”

In light of these and other challenges, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center will continue to communicate with people and educate. They will continue to provide a safe and inclusive environment for students on the University of Utah campus.