LGBTQ: At the Center of Change
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 02:10
In the five years since its founding, the LGBTQ Resource Center has helped reframe the issue of sexual orientation at Georgetown.
The center, which celebrated its anniversary Wednesday, was established as a result of the Out for Change Campaign, which began in the fall of 2007 after a student was verbally assaulted because of his sexual orientation. In response to the incident, members of GU Pride petitioned the university to develop a procedure to address hate crimes on campus, gathering approximately 750 signatures within six hours.
“The campus climate for the LGBTQ community was far different five years ago than it is today,” Scott Chessare (SFS ’10), former co-president of GU Pride and one of the leaders of the rally in Red Square that launched the campaign in 2007, said. “It was fractured, divided, not really united. We thought there was a general lack of institutional support.”
“Before Out for Change we had no full-time employee dealing with LGBTQ issues here on campus,” former GU Pride historian Ben McAfee (SFS ’12) said.
As a freshman, McAfee participated in the Red Square rally and helped organize a student presentation to University President John J. DeGioia along with other representatives from GU Pride, College Democrats, Georgetown Solidarity Committee and Take Back the Night.
“We sat down for two to three hours every day until we could articulate what we wanted: education, safety and programming,” he said.
The students spread their message by holding pep rallies in Red Square, creating the now-ubiquitous “I am” T-shirts and handing out LGBTQ awareness flyers to prospective students. McAfee recalled being stopped by Department of Public Safety officers when he tried to enter DeGioia’s office with a group of other students to voice their demands.
“We left an ‘I am’ shirt with his secretary,” McAfee said.
The response from DeGioia was both immediate and comprehensive. He announced the creation of three working groups that addressed areas of reporting, resources and education based on the campaign’s demands. The recommendations of these working groups led to the creation of the LGBTQ Resource Center in August 2008.
“In [that] dark hour, there was a seed of opportunity to respond to what happened,” Chessare said. “I think that is something we saw five years ago [with] DeGioia’s courageous decision to commit to establishing the LGBTQ center, not in spite of our Catholic and Jesuit identity, but because of it.”
That perspective was voiced by Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord at the center’s anniversary celebration Wednesday.
“When we walk across our campus and see the banners reminding us the values that characterize the Jesuit education — women and men for others, community and diversity — we will know these as lived values within this very special community,” Lord said. “We do this work at Georgetown precisely because we are a Catholic and Jesuit university.”
The center, which was the first of its kind at a Catholic University, quickly took hold. It provides a safe, informal place for students to discuss LGBTQ issues by appointment or at a coffee hour held each Friday.
“It’s just being a presence on a campus. … The resource center is something to take care of us as a whole person that at the same time supports the community as a whole,” GU Pride President Meghan Ferguson (COL ’15) said.
Despite Georgetown’s Jesuit background, there was no backlash when the center was created, according to Sivagami Subbaraman, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“There is nothing that I know of where there was major resistance from either the Catholic or alumni community. In fact, I think most people were quite delighted because the work done is consistent with Catholic and Jesuit principles,” she said. “This is about educational opportunities, about access [and] about providing our students with all of the resources they need to get a full and complete education.”
Georgetown also began advising other Catholic universities on how to incorporate LGBTQ resources into campus life.
“We have been contacted by [other Catholic universities] who have seen how successful the Georgetown model is and are interested in replicating it on their own campuses,” Michael Deneen (COL ’14), a part-time student worker at the center, said.
But Deneen added that the center should be an impetus for further advocacy efforts.
“I hope [the movement] doesn’t lose its momentum,” he said. “Just because we have a center now doesn’t mean the work is over.”