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By Rebecca Hazen
The LGBTQ Resource Center on the University of Houston campus provides a safe space for students who identify in the LGBTQ spectrum. The Resource Center recently welcomed Jamie Gonzales as the program coordinator to assist director Lorraine Schroeder.
Gonzales, who is originally from Port Neches, has lived in Houston for over five years with her partner of seven years and their three “fur babies.”
“I am a cat enthusiast,” Gonzales laughs as she shows off her cat magnets and her cat lanyard. “I just finished grad school, so for the last two years I didn’t have free time for hobbies! I am excited to be active again. My partner and I have done ballroom dancing, and also I enjoy biking.”
Gonzales took a nontraditional route to her current role. Previously, she worked in the property-tax field while volunteering for her alma mater’s LGBTQ alumni network.
“Through my involvement with alumni, I found out that there was a career in higher-education student affairs. They had a program at UH, so I got a master’s degree in higher education,” Gonzales says. “I think I have always known that I wanted to work for an LGBTQ Resource Center. I consider this my dream job.”
Gonzales considers having a job like this to be an honor, since there are only 250 LGBTQ centers in the United States, and six in Texas. “Having a space like this is important because students can feel a sense of belonging, and they’re able to connect with others as their authentic selves.”
Gonzales is most excited to be starting a new leadership program, the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance) Squad. Through the program, students will be selected to represent and promote the center. “They will talk to people about what our resources are and how they can get involved,” Gonzales explains. “We will send them to conferences, too. We will give these students an opportunity not to just give help, but really to blossom as leaders as well.”
Gonzales says that the most rewarding aspect of her job thus far has been working with the students and helping them to realize their full potential. “We help them set a vision and a goal for themselves, and then we get to watch them make that plan. It is absolutely the most important part of this position,” Gonzales says.
The Resource Center can be found at the Student Center North building, room N201—a space shared with the Women and Gender Resource Center. Visitors will immediately notice that resources and education are the center’s top priorities. Students have access to a large selection of books and movies, as well as informational pamphlets and contraceptives. Information about upcoming programs and different organizations on campus is also provided.
The center also features a large space where people can hang out. There is a television for watching movies or TV shows, and according to Gonzales, Jeopardy is a big hit.
The mission of the LGBTQ Resource Center, which opened in 2010, is to “cultivate safe spaces on campus and within our center’s programs, empowering LGBTQ students to develop their authentic identity, and become proud, successful, engaged members of the UH community.”
“The University of Houston’s biggest push is student success,” Schroeder says. “That is really the whole reason for the Resource Center. If LGBTQ students feel connected to the campus and they get the support they need, then they are more likely to be successful.”
Some of the programs that the LGBTQ Resource Center offers include a peer-mentoring program for students who are struggling with their LGBTQ identity. “It gives students who are not struggling an opportunity to use some leadership skills getting their mentee on a good track,” Schroeder says.
There is also a Cougar Ally training program, which helps to increase awareness of issues that LGBTQ people face. Faculty that have gone through the program get a placard to put up in their office, so that students and others know it is a safe space.
October, which is LGBTQ Awareness month, is fast approaching, and the Resource Center will have plenty of events to commemorate. On October 11, National Coming Out Day, the center is bringing two speakers to campus. “They will talk about things like healthy relationships and sexual consent. We are excited to bring them on campus because they are fun and engaging, but they are also focused on that educational component,” Gonzales says.
The LGBTQ Center is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and until 5 p.m. on Fridays. For more information about the Resource Center and its upcoming events, visit www.uh.edu/lgbtq/.