My first interaction with the idea of LGBT housing was tinged with cynicism.
“The university says it’s ‘welcoming’ and ‘values diversity’ and that we’ll be perfectly safe and respected anywhere, but that LGBT housing is some kind of ‘extra safe.’ It seems suspicious to me,” my friend said.
We were finishing high school, preparing to start at UCSD together the following fall, and discussing whether either of us were going to go for LGBT housing. “I should be able to live anywhere,” he continued. “I don’t see a reason to be shunted off into the token gay dorm.”
He had a point — living in LGBT housing seemed like it would make a statement, right away, about who I was. Surely, college was for exploring identity and meeting new people – I didn’t want to segregate myself. Neither of us joined.
However, in an utterly predictable twist of fate, I failed to make friends with my suitemates and instead sought out people with similar interests — many of the people I’ve met and maintained friendships with are queer anyway. It turns out that finding a community of people who share an axis of identity can be a powerful thing.
I’ve found this community slowly, sometimes through chance and sometimes through queer organizations. A significant chunk of these friends had chosen to live in LGBT housing for part of their time here. They told me that it made them feel safer, or meant that they didn’t have to teach the people they lived with about their identities when all they wanted was to unwind.
One person was particularly blunt: “I was scared of living with straight people.”
It’s an important time to be discussing the question of what LGBT housing is for, at its heart, and how it should be done, because the university is about to switch up some of how LGBT housing is structured here. Previously, there have been small LGBT housing areas in each college. Next year they’ll all be centralized. Every student who chooses to live in new LGBTQIA+ housing (which is open to students with a housing guarantee) will be living in Muir dorms. This has advantages and disadvantages; bringing people from all six colleges creates a larger community, with a greater density of queer people and fewer allies living in LGBTQIA+ housing. But it could also separate people from their own colleges and the larger sense of community there, and it seems to have a greater risk of parents who were not supposed to know realizing that their child is in LGBTQIA+ housing, because they’re not living in their college.
I want to be able to tell you here that I now think LGBTQIA+ housing is a good idea. And in fact, I do believe that, I think it can be extremely beneficial if it’s done well and sensitively. But that addendum, “well and sensitively” is crucial, and I’m not convinced that the current plan truly addresses that.
The thing about LGBTQIA+ housing is that it shouldn’t be complicated, which makes it all the more frustrating that the university’s changes don’t address the deeper issues. Here’s what it should look like:
- It should be fully gender inclusive and you should be able to express preference for living with people of certain genders.
- It should be easy to get into, just a simple check-box. There should be no complex application, until and unless it’s proven to be necessary.
- Transgender students should be referred to by their chosen names even if those are different than their legal names. Currently, there is no way to indicate usage of a name other than a legal name.
- The Residential Life staff who administer to the housing should be familiar with relevant issues.
- It should take care not to out students to their families.
- It should separate housing from educational programs. Residents of LGBTQIA+ housing are not in need of education about activism — they just needs to be a safe place to live.
LGBTQIA+ housing can be a wonderful force making students feel at home and welcome in their university. But I think there’s still work to be done at UCSD. Consolidating the current LGBT housing will not automatically solve the existing institutional problems. I think the university system has good rhetoric and there are people trying to put good systems in place. But I’m concerned with on-the-ground reality, which doesn’t necessarily measure up to that ideal.
Jaz Twersky is a contributing opinion writer for The Triton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. As a current employee of the University and the LGBT Resource Center, this article represents my opinions and not that of any institution or organization with which I am associated.