Campus resources and policies make the University of Utah attractive for LGBT community

Story and photos by JAKE GORDON

With assets like the LGBT Resource Center and policies that really benefit all students, the University of Utah is one of the top schools in the nation when it comes to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

C. Kai Medina-Martínez stands in front of a mural inside the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah. Medina-Martínez is the center’s executive director.

C. Kai Medina-Martínez, executive director of the LGBT Resource Center, talked to journalism students in September 2012 at the university about the benefits of having the resource center.

The center, which is located in the Olpin Student Union, had a grand re-opening in October 2011 after moving into an office space of just under 1,000 square feet.

“There is a large lounging area that the students utilize,” Medina-Martínez said. “Right now we have four computers that students can use to do papers or study and we also allow students to do 10 free copies a day.”

Medina-Martínez, who prefers the pronoun “they,” said the resource center is a great resource to U students. The center also does a lot of education, including training and outreach.

“We do LGBT one-on-one training,” they said. “We also do our Safe Zone training, which is three hours. We talk about terminology and we talk about history.”

Being an ally, or “someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own,” is talked about in the Safe Zone training as well as transgender training. Medina-Martínez said it is important to educate people on what transgender means and also the importance of having trans-inclusive policies in the classroom and on campus.

Valerie Velarde, who is the center’s Safe Zone coordinator, is one of the students responsible for the trainings, which she did during campus Pride Week in October 2012. Velarde said educating people about the LGBT community is helpful for everybody involved and that it can change the way people think.

“I would really like to bring home the fact (in Safe Zone training) that this is not an exclusive issue that affects only those with queer, or different than the hegemonic norm, identities,” Velarde said in an email interview. “We have an incredibly diverse campus with a multitude of ideologies and varying degrees of liberalism and conservatism floating about ­— which is a good thing.”

Safe Zone training is an educational class for everyone to better understand the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Both Velarde and Medina-Martínez talked about campus policies that benefit all students and not just the LGBT community.

One of those policies brought about by Medina-Martínez is located on the Campus Information System (CIS) under the student tag. Students can now list a preferred name that they will go by in classes.

That is important for individuals “who are going through some sort of transition,” they said. “They will change their name that is assigned to them at birth to match more of their identity.”

The sign for the LGBT Resource Center just outside the front door. The center is just one resource for the LGBT community that makes the University of Utah a desirable school to attend.

“These policies might start out to appear to be helping a certain group but they actually expand to help more than just that one group,” they said.

Medina-Martínez has also worked to make changes to buildings on campus, such as the campus recreational activities building (HPER).

Now, there is more privacy in the men’s shower area. “From what I hear from men, regardless if they are cisgender (opposite of transgender) or however they identify themselves, they want privacy in the shower,” Medina-Martínez said.

The policy changes that the U has made in an effort to accommodate all students has earned the university some recognition.

Campus Pride is a national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups that are working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students. Campus Pride also has created an index, released in August 2012, for the purpose of helping a prospective student who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to find a university that has policies in place to create a safe study environment.

According to the Campus Pride Index, the University of Utah scored the highest possible score of five stars as a prospective place for higher education for the LGBT community. The university scored perfect in the sub-categories of support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, campus safety, counseling and health and recruitment and retention efforts. The only categories that the university fell short on was in policy inclusion and housing/residence life.

“Campus Pride is really the only resource out there for the prospective LGBT student to find out what college to go to,” said Jess McDonald in a telephone interview. “Being highly ranked says a lot about the campus and that they value LGBT students as much as any other student,” said McDonald, who is media, communications and programs manager for Campus Pride.

Medina-Martínez also talked about the U’s favorable rating.

“They (Campus Pride) rated the university based on their policies and procedures as one of the top-25 schools in the nation out of more than 300 schools,” Medina-Martínez said. “What it means is a really great thing for the university.”

Gallery creates a space for diversity

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, stated, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

During this year’s Pride at the U, artists of all sexual preferences found a venue for their visions.

“Art is a big part of queer culture,” said Bonnie Owens, 21, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the LGBT Resource Center on campus. “It’s a big part of any culture, so I thought it was important that it was included.”

The theme of the 2007 Pride Week held Oct. 15-20 was “Culture with a Q.” Owens was inspired by the theme, and chose to revamp the idea of an art gallery as part of Pride Week.

“In the past it’s never been successful, but I really wanted it to run well this year,” Owens said.

The art show was originally titled “Beautifully Obscene,” but was renamed “The Good Stuff” after some concern over what would be displayed in the gallery located in the U’s student lounge.

“The best thing about the gallery is that it crosses so many different boundaries,” Owens said. “We’ve got staff, faculty, alumni, community members and students all in here.”

Though it was labeled a LGBTQ art gallery, Owens said anyone could submit their art. Artists did not have to describe the subject matter, just the dimensions of their work.

“Something like this is so odd,” Owens said. “It’s so queer to have a gallery designed for queer students and faculty. So it’s very, very liberating for an artist that’s having a hard time finding their niche. It’s a good place to be.”

A variety of art was displayed in the gallery, including photography, drawings, oil, water color, mixed media and pottery.

While some works were more subdued, the gallery did feature a series of nudes painted by a former alumna who lives in Santa Quin County. Owens said the woman found out about the gallery through a culture article in the Salt Lake Tribune and was eager to show her work, not only because the county did not have a gallery that would display the nudes, but also because two of the woman’s children are gay.

The gallery became a canvas of emotion and statement for some.

Orbin Rockford, 27, submitted five pieces from a series of 25 Sharpie and acrylic paint drawings to the gallery. The dark images portrayed, both in color and tone, stood out starkly from their clean, white backgrounds.

The inspiration came from an emotional break-up that happened while Rockford was in college at a Boston art school.

“I was in a relationship that was totally messed up,” Rockford said. “It was my first real relationship with a guy.”

Drawing, Rockford said, is a form of therapy, what he calls “instinct art.”

“It’s a great outlet,” he said. “It’s been about coming to terms with myself.” 

But Rockford said he does not want his artwork to be defined only by his sexuality.

“It’s very much a part of my work, some pieces more than others,” he said.

Aside from putting the show together, Owens also submitted her own series of black and white photographs. Each one featured student leaders and activists from the U’s LGBTQ groups.

“They [Owens’ photographs] were designed to be shown, so they’re a little more apparent,” she said. “They’re something that you can look at them and say, why is this queer, what is going on here.”

The pieces were on display for the week, and the gallery full of artwork was proof of a goal accomplished, according to Owens.

“Pretty much everyone from different identities and cultures submitted something, which is something the resource center has had a hard time with in the past,” Owens said. “A lot of events this year cater to people who are often forgotten in programming like this, so people of color, transgender individuals, women, straight allies especially. So it’s great to see some of their work in this.”