WSU’s queer crown is missing jewels

WSU is officially one of the gayest universities in America.

Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization, released a national listing placing WSU among the top 30 colleges and universities for LGBTQ inclusion.

The organization gave our university five out of five stars in their index. Among the reasons for this score, Campus Pride said, “They offer the Gender Identity/Expression (and) Sexual Orientation Resource Center, lavender graduation and many events available to students, faculty, staff and community members.”

To determine the score, Campus Pride takes into account LGBTQ policy inclusion; support and institutional commitment to queer students, faculty and staff; LGBTQ academic and student life; inclusive housing and resident life; campus safety; inclusive counseling and health; and LGBTQ recruitment and retention efforts.

Of course, this record is not flawless. Among the benchmarks not reached, Campus Pride cited the university as not having an accessible, simple process for students to change names on university records to better conform to gender identity. Moreover, WSU was marked down for not having LGBTQ living spaces, theme floors or living-learning communities or offering free, anonymous HIV and STI testing.

Heidi Stanton-Schnebly, director of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center (GIESORC), wrote in an email that credit for earning this top spot for LGBTQ inclusion could not be attributed solely to GIESORC or its programs.

“This is an institutional effort of many areas and resources across campus coming together to ensure that our students know they are valued and that they feel safe and included,” Stanton-Schnebly wrote. “This isn’t just about what programs and services come out of GIESORC.”

Among many reasons for this ranking, Stanton-Schnebly cited efforts by counseling services, ASWSU’s discussion of bathroom accessibility, police participation in ally trainings, and the intersection between Multicultural Student Services and GIESORC’s mentor program to tackle issues concerning queer and undocumented students.

Truly this recognition is an accomplishment. Any university should be proud of the institutional commitment WSU makes to all of its minority students.

However, this transformation of Cougar culture to become more inclusive of all Cougs is far from complete.

Let me give an example from my own life. I remember well last academic year walking home from the gym with my partner, Travis, and getting catcalled from a passing car. “Why don’t you two make out?” yelled the baseball-capped bro.

Now, we were walking home without holding hands, without even necessarily presenting ourselves as a couple. However, for whatever reason, we were sensed to be gay and thus that made it appropriate in the mind of that guy to shout such a thing.

WSU still faces down extraordinary cultural problems with regard to LGBTQ students.

To be fair, it is much easier to be gay, lesbian or bisexual now than at any time before. However, our trans students and those who live outside clean-cut sexual orientation or gender identity labels still face stigma. Even those of us like myself who fit into the clean categories still get harassed from time to time.

Alejandra Martinez, a WSU sophomore and women’s studies major, also believes the struggle for full acceptance and inclusion for queer Cougs is far from over.

“I do feel that there is a strong queer community in the Pullman-Moscow region, but I also feel that, in regard to Washington State University’s inclusivity, they are doing a good job but it can be better,” Martinez said. “I feel that the opportunities and resources available can be more advertised and expanded, and for the most part the queer community is still a minority and the university’s housing situations are still very gendered and heteronormative.”

This university still faces the pathologies of a largely white, patriarchal and cisgendered culture. I still hear instances of, “Dude, that’s so gay.” Orientation counselors and new Cougs still sound awkward when coming through GIESORC with Alive sessions.

In other words, we should be grateful for the achievements made at this university. However, we should still be anxious and impatient for change and progress with regard to openness and inclusion.

Let us take a moment to celebrate this accomplishment and then go right back to work making the WSU community truly inclusive of all Cougs.

Tyler Laferriere is a graduate student pursuing his master’s in economics from Phoenix, Arizona. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected].