Over the past decade, I've agreed countless times to give LGBTQ 101 presentations at colleges and universities. These sessions usually boil down to, "No, bisexuality is not a phase. Yes, you have gay students at your faith-based institution. And this is what the 'T' stands for."
Last week, when asked to present at a small, Midwestern liberal-arts college, I tried out a new response: "No." Out loud, I begged off, hiding behind a schedule that was simply too full. In my head, I was screaming: "Seriously? Do it yer damn self!"
I am hereby declare colleges and universities officially past the point of hiring an outside speaker to do LGBTQ 101. Yes, booking this former stand-up-comic-snarky-gay-Jew looks great on a flyer, but once the shiny unicorn leaves campus, campus officials are the ones left. They need to be the ones doing the presenting.
It is our paramount responsibility to provide the safest campus possible for our LGBTQ and Ally students, faculty, and staff. So, what would it mean if we could really evolve the dialogue and get to LGBTQ 201? We'll never know, unless every college campus makes three crucial changes to get us all on the same page.
1. Make Your Non-Discrimination Statement Fully Inclusive. It is unacceptable to omit language banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or its expression. Your campus's non-discrimination statement lies at the core of all of your practices, from hiring to admissions to housing. I guarantee that many of the benchmark schools to which you compare yourself -- and other institutions that are using you as a benchmark -- all prohibit discrimination based on these categories. This is not an area where you want to separate yourself from the pack. Present a list of those schools to your president and your HR office and propose the additions.
If your non-discrimination policy is set, look beyond your campus walls. Before attending conferences or meetings at other institutions, read their non-discrimination statements. If you don't see these categories represented, contact the organizer. They're not doing everything they can to protect all of their students and you are in a position help make that change.
2. Establish an LGBT Student Organization. I am floored that there are schools that still do not boast an LGBT student group on their roster of campus organizations. I repeatedly hear the refrain of "If the students want one, they would come forward and start one." If there is no LGBTQ student organization on your campus, your help is needed to start one. Gay and ally students without an LGBTQ organization are missing a vital outlet to celebrate, to decompress, and to simply be.
Faculty and staff can jump-start a student organization with awe-inspiring rapidity just by standing by a sign-up sheet at a table in a dining hall. Establishing an LGBTQ staff and faculty organization is just as important as you look at inclusive benefits, retaining new hires, and supporting campus life.
3. Collect Data. From healthy habits to student satisfaction to curricular review, the proliferation of surveys warms my assessment-junkie heart. Most surveys kick off with a demographic section but don't include a space to indicate sexual orientation, gender identity or its expression. There is a dearth of data about the experiences of our LGBTQ students and that lack is inhibiting our ability to stimulate relevant dialogue. Add a question on these surveys giving students the opportunity to identify as LGBTQ. The effort to change the survey is minor; the resulting data will be monumental.
As much as I enjoy being asked to speak at other institutions, you will always know your school better than I will. Stop hiring the outside consultants and step up to the podium yourself. You understand your college's climate and know which buttons to press and levers to pull to create change. Our schools must be made safer for all students and your action is needed, not just for this shiny unicorn, but for the safety and well-being of your entire campus community.