Typically celebrated across the country during June, many Pride Month events are either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, Indiana University continues to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community across all its campuses in a variety of ways. From student, staff, and faculty organizations to LGBTQ+ culture centers celebrating the month with social media posts highlighting various aspects of LGBTQ+ life, the LGBTQ+ community at IU is not only respected but continues to thrive.
“I think trying to define the LGBTQ+ community at IU or IUPUI is about as difficult as trying to define the whole LGBTQ+ community,” AJ Young, director of IUPUI’s LGBTQ+ Center said. “It is multiple communities that engage and are related to one another but also have some very distinct subcommunities. I think as a whole our community here is really interested in what’s going on on campus and in the world and they’re very vocal. They’re not afraid to stand up and say ‘hey, there’s a gap’ or ‘hey, this is not right; we need to do this a different way’ or ‘we need to talk about what’s going on in this area.’ It’s a wonderful community to be part of because they’re not complacent.”
When Young began his job as center director two years ago, he was very impressed by the vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ Student Alliance on IUPUI’s campus and how they focused on intersectionality and diversity within the LGBTQ+ community as well as the campus’s LGBTQ+ Faculty Staff Council.
“There was so much more happening on campus then I anticipated when I started as center director,” Young said. “I was very pleased to come in and not have to fight the basic fights, but I was unsure of what the culture of campus would be like, especially in Indiana, which is not always known for its progressivism. But I was very surprised by how much support there was at both the campus and institutional level. When I started, we had just added gender identity and expression in addition to sex and sexual identity to the non-discrimination policy. There was a preferred name policy; there were so many things that were exciting and supportive at an administrative policy level. The folks at upper administration genuinely do believe that diversity and inclusion are important work.”
According to Young, having those policies in place make it easier to engage and support students, staff, and faculty who are experiencing things like microaggressions, bias, or discrimination and showcases that sort of behavior is not acceptable. However, Young reports that many instances of those behaviors are almost always born from ignorance rather than maliciousness.
“It really is about educating folks and helping them understand why their choice of language was hurtful or show that there is a better, more inclusive way to come into class on the first day and introduce themselves.”
These university policies show LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty that their dedication t to the LGBTQ+ community, a statement echoed by Bruce Smail, interim director of the LGBTQ+ Culture Center, one of the many centers under the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA).
“When you first come to IU, there is an orientation you go through during your first month,” Smail said. “At the faculty and staff orientation I attended, a staff member from IU Office of Institutional Equity was speaking about how it is a priority at Indiana University to support people and their sexual and gender identity. And then went on to discuss preferred names and restroom facilities and this person was clearly advocating for the trans community. And I’m sitting there as director of the LGBTQ+ center watching these new staff members and I think it was the first time I heard someone be pro-trans and indicate university support of the trans community at an introductory orientation to faculty and staff. It was a very powerful statement and I was glad I was able to see that when I least expected it,” Smail said.
Although Smail took his position as interim director earlier this year, he rejoined the IU family after a 25-year absence. Smail commented on the progress IU has made since that time, citing that 25 years ago the university was just starting to discuss domestic partner benefits.
“The climate feels different,” Smail said. “I’m sitting in meetings where I have colleagues talking about ‘are bathrooms safe?’ and LGBTQ+ issues when they aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s that level of sensitivity and concern and intersectionality that I hear that was not here 25 years ago. For me that feels good, I don’t have to be the direct spokesperson on that issue and it’s important to be able to see that allies are also standing up for the LGBTQ+ community. In general, I think we are in a good place. There is a lot of energy and support coming from the LGBTQ+ Alumni Association and the Queer Philanthropy Circle.”
Despite the many strides IU and it’s campuses have taken for the LGBTQ+ community, there is always more to do. “One of the things we are looking at doing is building some form of communication connection with LGBTQ+ faculty and staff, which is an important element I think we’re missing on the IU Bloomington campus,” Smail said. “I think in many ways, the work of the LGBTQ+ Alumni Association has been that connection to the faculty and staff, but it is not a true faculty and staff association.”
Both Young and Smail hope that as both the LGBTQ+ community and IU continue to grow, with LGBTQ+ issues and education more of a regular staple of everyday life, where all departments and programs are sensitive to sexual and gender identity similarly to how they are sensitive to race.
“In general, we’ve had people come to the center expecting us to give all the training, all the knowledge on LGBTQ+ issues, not realizing everyone on a college campus has to be knowledgeable about the community,” Smail said. For me, the ideal stage is when LGBTQ+ students can utilize any campus department and feel that they are sensitive to LGBTQ+ issues. This should be the norm, not rare. It should be automatic that all of our departments are sensitive and inclusive of all levels of diversity --- including sexual and gender identity.”