by Megan Smith
The University of Houston’s LGBT Resource Center deals with some hard issues—students whose families discovered they are LGBT-identified and have stopped speaking to them, transgender students who need a place to change clothes, and gender-nonconforming students who avoid using the restroom all day for fear of being harassed. However, through education, social events, and programming efforts, the center has proven to be a safe haven for queer and questioning students since its opening in May 2010. With student traffic increasing about 40 percent from last year, the center’s need for more resources is greater than ever before. The center hosts a fundraiser this October in hopes of further expanding programs and staff availability to students.
LGBT Resource Center’s Cougar Ally Training is a comprehensive three-hour course open to non-LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Participants learn about the coming-out process, queer resources available on campus, and issues facing the LGBT community. The program also includes a question-and-answer session with a speaker’s bureau of people from the queer community. “It’s surprising how much the general population doesn’t know about LGBT people,” Lorraine Schroeder, program director of the LGBT Resource Center, says. “We try to provide that knowledge.”
The speaker’s bureau, along with several other programs such as Transgender 101, can be requested by students and staff to be presented in classrooms or to student organizations. Transgender 101 has even been presented to GLOBAL, UH’s largest LGBT student organization. “It was very interesting because the young LGB people had a lot of questions about the ‘T’ [part of their label],” Schroeder says. “I was so impressed with our students because the level of questions that were coming from them was just so profound as far as people’s identities, their own identity, acceptance, and diversity.”
The center’s programming heavily relies on grants, including funding from Bunnies on the Bayou and the Hollyfield Foundation. With current grant money, Schroeder plans to bring Out Comes Butch, the one-person production about trying on different identities, to students this fall. She also seeks to increase the number of DVDs and books available in the center’s lending library, offering books for students dealing with specific issues such as homosexuality and Catholicism, bisexuality, and transgender issues. “When people come in to talk to me about things, I want to be able to hand them a book or something they can physically take home with them so they can get more in-depth, and that’s something we’ll be able to do with the funding from the Hollyfield Foundation,” Schroeder says.
Although these grants are very useful, the center still faces major funding barriers. Schroeder is the center’s only staff member, and only works part-time. Although she has two work-study students to assist her during the fall and spring semesters, more people are needed to fully support necessary programming. The center previously offered a mentoring program, matching trained mentors with at-risk LGBT students dealing with stress from coming out, questioning students, or students experiencing rejection from family members. However, this program is temporarily unavailable until a full-time staff advisor is found.
Schroeder hopes that the center’s fundraiser will help solve some of these issues. Co-chaired by Carol Wyatt, Gary Wood, and Nick Brines, it is scheduled the evening of Oct. 25 at the newly renovated Blaffer Art Museum on the main campus. The evening includes a UH student jazz guitarist, tours of the museum and the Tony Feher exhibit, and a door prize for anyone that contributes to Rainbow Friends, the center’s donor program. The event also includes a silent auction featuring a cultural package with tickets to campus musicals and theatrical productions, as well as an athletics package. All profits from the event directly benefit the center.
The main goal of the fundraiser is to raise enough money to hire a graduate student to re-institute and oversee the center’s mentoring program. The center also wishes to use funds raised to expand their speaker’s bureau and have an increased presence in classrooms, student organizations, and residence halls.
“The overall goal of the LGBT Center is to launch the next generation of healthy, productive LGBT citizens,” Schroeder says. “Whatever it takes to support the students in developing a healthy identity, we’re there to help them go on and become successful.”