By Alina Hunter-Grah, Chattanooga, Tenn. — *NOTE: Some students names in the article have been changed to protect identities from stigmas that might be associated with individuals identifying as LGBT+.
LGBTQIA is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual that is used as a label referring to the community of people identifying themselves as belonging to one of these categories.
The LGBT+ community, unfortunately, is also subject to higher probabilities of unwanted sexual contact, harassment, domestic violence, physical assaults, and murder than the heterosexual, cisgender majority. The Association of American Universities found that three in four LGBT+ people will experience unwanted sexual harassment. The Human Rights Campaign says that four in ten LGBT+ youths say that the community in which they live in is not accepting of LGBT+ people and LGBT+ youths are two times more likely to be physically assaulted than their peers.
College campuses, while known to have a better reputation for having more LGBT+ accepting climates, can have their own issues that stem from the same prejudices that cause the spike in statistics listed above.
“Haters are going to hate,” said *James, a senior from Chattanooga. “There’s nothing you can really do to stop it.”
Several students have cited their experiences with prejudice around the University. Different identities seem to entail different kinds of aggressions.
One asexual student responded to a survey about the LGBT+ climate sent out to some UTC students with, “No one really understands what it means and how a person can be it. Being sexually harassed (regularly cat called) happens so frequently and it is terrible for someone who identifies as asexual.”
Bisexuality seems to become a stereotype for some.
“A lot of people think that, especially if you’re bisexual, you’re down for lots of things like threesomes and are down to f*** and things like that,” said Bri, a super senior. “And even recently last fall, I was talking to someone and he was hitting on me and I told him ‘I’m in a relationship; I have a girlfriend.’ And he said, ‘Oh! Really? Are you a lesbian or bisexual?’ I told him I was bisexual and he said ‘Oh! So there’s still a chance then?'”
Transgender students have faced everything on campus from the use of misgendered pronouns to threatening anonymous social media posts.
“There was a student in my creative writing class – ,” said Jason Kibble, a junior from Chattanooga, “I turned in a piece that talked about my gender identity and she basically ripped me to shreds by saying incredibly derogatory things towards me.”
“I remember there was an incident one or two years ago where someone posted on anon social media ‘tranny spotted at ___” and it gave the location, the time, what they looked like, everything,” said James. “It opens that up to threats from multiple people.”
“With so many options to post things anonymously, a lot of hate gets circulated that way,” said Zdravka Boutchinska, a junior from Sophia, Bulgaria.
None of the stories mentioned involved direct violence to students and police say that have not had to deal with many cases that involve violence because of prejudice of LGBT students.
“We have been fortunate to not have had any issues relating to the harassment of LGBT populations,” said Police Lieutenant John Boe. “There have been numerous programs and events over the last couple of years that have given us a better understanding and appreciation for that group within our population. Thus, we have been very fortunate to be in this environment where we’ve had academia members and others who have been engaging with our programs to provide this sector with a platform. In essence, we’ve all learned a little about each other and have gained valuable insight and have become a little more accepting of each other’s life choices.”
However, violence still does and can happen.
A couple of programs exist on campus that aim to make the University environment more inclusive to LGBT+ students. One is a student organization called Spectrum that provides students with a support group while working to change the school environment to be more accommodating to LGBT+ students. The other is SafeZone, a program that educates students, faculty and staff about LGBT+ issues and creates advocates for those identifying as LGBT+.
Spectrum was formed in the early 1990s and currently has around 20 members. Spectrum works both with on campus issues and contributes to charity events around Chattanooga.
“There’s obviously a large number of LGBT students on campus,” said Boutchinska, Spectrum’s vice facilitator and community liaison. “I feel like Spectrum provides an invaluable resource to them, whether that’s a support group or getting them involved with not just their campus but with the greater Chattanooga community. I think it’s necessary. People need safe spaces and Spectrum is one of those safe spaces for them.”
Spectrum has recently been working to make it easier for transgender students to get their preferred names as the names used on professor’s rosters and come up with ideas for housing that would be friendly to people who were gender non-conforming.
“A lot of the activities that we do on campus are expressly around the idea of UTC being a safe space for LGBT student,” said James, the president of Spectrum. “And so we’re trying to do the name changes on banner. We’re trying to get gender neutral restrooms for LGBT students that need them because of the safety situations that are surrounding that and gender neutral housing as well. We don’t have anything that’s purely gender neutral, but we have been working on finding safe assignments. Our main concern is safety for LGBT students.”
Spectrum is also working on the idea of trying to get a LGBT+ student representative to help make decisions and plans for future gender neutral bathrooms and dorms on campus. This stems from the expressed issues surrounding labeling bathrooms as gender neutral.
“The signage for [gender neutral bathrooms] is messed up in that by designating them as such as opposed to something like ‘family bathroom’ or some other designator made it to where what should be a safe facility became ‘if you use this, you’re outing yourself,'” said Chris Moore, a previous student of UTC and current member of Spectrum.
Spectrum will also be present at the Strides of March, a charity run that creates funds for Chattanooga CARES, with a kids booth that will have face painting and other activities for kids. Chattanooga CARES is an organization that supports and assists people with HIV/AIDS.
To join Spectrum, students can attend one of its bimonthly meetings during the first and third Wednesday in every month at 6:30 p.m. in the Ocoee room in the UC.
Students agree that the best way to end prejudice is to become a more visible entity.
“I think it’s really easy to be against an issue,” said James. “But I think as whatever issue that may be gains more visibility and there are more faces attached to that issue, you don’t start to see it as an issue anymore. You start to see it as a person. That’s how marriage equality gained the large level of support that it did. It came from somebody’s uncle being gay or somebody’s best friend being gay or trans. It came from putting a face to that issue. And then people will start seeing it as you’re not just talking about an issue and it’s not an opinion of an issue. You’re actually talking about a real person’s life.”