Ohio University

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Published: October 23, 2018 Author: Cheyenne Keller

This year, Ohio University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary! Though the Center was officially established in 1998, according to the LGBT Center, there has been an active LGBT community in Athens since the 1970s. 

Its mission continues to create a university environment and community inclusive and supportive of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and queerness. The Center has been a key component in making Ohio University an accepting and supportive space where all students are welcome. 

Prior to the opening of the LGBT Center, the University had established groups to support students in the LGBT community. These groups included the Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA) which started in 1972. Following the beginning of GALA, in 1979 the first workshop was held at Ohio University for counseling people in the LGBT community. 

Another huge milestone for the community took place in 1980, which was the addition of sexual orientation into the university’s non-discrimination policy. 

Soon after, a group began at the university named, “Swarm of Dykes,” which started as a source of lesbian and dyke visibility and worked to end discrimination against the LGBT community. This group was later renamed, “Empowering Women of Ohio.” 

At this point, the university was taking strides in the right direction for the LGBT community. Finally, in 1998, the LGBT Center was established as a quarter-time operation. The first coordinator of the center was Laura Harrison from 1998 – 2000. Jenny Hall-Jones was the coordinator the next academic year, from 2000-2001. In 2001, Mickey Hart became the third person to play an influential role in the creation of the Center. In 2003, the LGBT Center became a full-time operation. 

“When the center was first formed, it was from an initiative from Residence Life as a response to a division-wide cultural audit we did back in 1997,” said Hall-Jones of the Center in its beginning. “The leaders in Residence Life back then read the report, heard our students demanding support and offered to help out by carving out 25 percent of a staff member’s time to open the center.  

“The staff at Baker Center (the old one, which is now Schoonover),” she continued, “took a conference room off-line and we started a center! Just 10 hours a week of a full-time person and the rest with student workers and volunteers. I was lucky enough to have been the second person from Residence Life to coordinate the center. Since then, the center has quadrupled in size; has a full-time director; we have achieved partner benefits; the right for all to marry; and trans health care for both students and staff. We still have a long way to go to realize equality in both the law and people’s consciousness, but I’m happy to be a part of positive movement forward.”

Since the establishment of the LGBT Center, many incredible events and changes have been implemented at Ohio University. In 2007, gender identity and gender expression were added to the university’s non-discrimination policy (“Ohio,” n.d.). 

Then, in 2011, Smith House on South Green opened as a gender-neutral housing option. In 2013, delfin bautista* was introduced as the new Center director, and in 2015, a university-wide policy was implemented: Preferred names and pronouns. 

When bautista was offered the position, they were most excited about the foundation that already existed. 

“It wasn’t starting from scratch, there was an established Center,” bautista said. “The opportunity to be able to build off of that and to expand what was already here was exciting, and my predecessors, along with the University as a whole, (have) been committed to LGBT people.”

The history of the LGBT Center is truly inspiring and remarkable. The university is extremely fortunate to have so many influential people pushing for change. 

“Ohio University’s LGBT Center was the first of its kind in the state when it was founded 20 years ago,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina. “Today, the Center’s pioneering spirit continues through its innovative programming and tireless advocacy for students in our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Student Affairs is incredibly grateful for our continued partnership with the Center, which has led to greater inclusivity and increased support for students of all sexual orientations at Ohio University.”

Though this is a time of celebration, there are still worries and concerns for the LGBT community. bautista said there is currently a lot of fear and uncertainty in terms of the current political climate, and referenced federal and state policies.

“Right now, we are living in a really extremist moment,” bautista explained. “In Columbus, for the state, there is the Ohio Fairness Act, which would add LGBT people as protected classes under the state’s non-discrimination policy. At the same time, there is also a bill before the state legislature that would force teachers and mental health professionals to out trans-youth to their families, which could potentially put them in very harmful situations.”

“This is a reflection of what we are living in,” bautista continued. “At the same time, we have extreme support and extreme resistance with hardly anything happening in the middle. The celebrations are not to distract from that conversation, but to give folks an outlet and hope.” 

To keep up with the LGBT community, follow the Center’s social media accounts and subscribe to the LGBT Newsletter. All LGBT Center events can be found at https://www.ohio.edu/lgbt/calendar.cfm.

Editors note:

* delfin bautista identifies as trans and two-spirits and requests lowercase letters and the pronoun "they" instead of the traditional "he" or "she.”