7 Brave Campuses for LGBT Students in the South
BY Campus Pride
September 02 2014 9:00 AM ET
The struggle for fair access and treatment for LGBT students is still that in many places — a struggle. And while organizing in the South offers a special set of challenges, Southern colleges and universities remain a vital part of the social, political, and cultural landscape.
Since conviction has always been strong in the face of adversity, Campus Pride has identified seven campuses in particular that stand out as not just good colleges, but “brave spaces” where LGBT young adults have stood up against the politics of bigotry and pushed forward, driving grassroots progress.
Many of these campuses are pioneers in the region advocating for inclusive policies, programs, and practices. In other cases the students have taken up the fight for equitable treatment themselves and are creating “brave spaces” on their own. The designation “brave space” comes from the philosophy that “safe spaces” are a privilege not available in some situations, such as these Southern campuses.
Founded and based in Charlotte, N.C., Campus Pride has provided ongoing support and a hands-on commitment for the work done by and for Southerners, especially on college campuses.
College of Charleston — Charleston, S.C.
In the 243-year history of the College of Charleston, this last academic year proved to be one for the books earning the campus the distinction of a “brave space.” The annual CoC Campus Reads! Program buys books, like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, every year to engage students on issues of diversity and invites the author to speak on campus, as Bechdel did last October. A highly honored best seller published in 2006, Fun Home depicts the author’s coming-out story and the suicide of her father, a closeted gay man. But a dramatic showdown over CoC’s use of Bechdel's book ensued when South Carolina-based conservative group the Palmetto Family Council and Republican state representative Garry Smith supported a bill to cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston budget.
The CoC campus community opposed the attempt at government censorship and staged various nonviolent protests. At a LGBTQ Solidarity Rally held by student activists April 21, one student read a public statement from the CoC president George Benson with a megaphone: “Is there an alternative to academic freedom? Yes there is. It’s called oppression.”
Isabel Williams and K.T. Babb, student leaders of the CoC Gay-Straight Alliance, led the crowd in the chant “Nothing about us, decided without us.”
As The Washington Post reported, that evening more than 750 students, faculty, staff, and community members flooded into an off-campus auditorium to watch a performance of the musical adaptation of Fun Home. CoC funded the event through private and nonstate college funds. Reacting to the events, Bechdel told the Post, “I’ve gotten my eyes opened a bit. I live in the Northeast in a pretty liberal place, and I’ve sort of been lulled into complacency. This has been an interesting wake-up call.”
Despite this past year, CoC administrators and students have persevered as a three-star campus on the Campus Pride Index broadening campus efforts to improve policies. LGBTQ and ally leaders continued to create change on campus, including the Gay-Straight Alliance hosting its second annual Second Chance Prom, which drew over 110 guests. In the fall, a board was established to create a new Gender and Sexuality Equity Center. In the spring, Safe Zone implemented a partnership with the college’s Department of Public Safety, including recruitment of two Public Safety/SafeZone liaisons. The CoC also provided training to staff at the nearby Medical University of South Carolina and the Citadel, both of which now have Safe Zone programs that are funded by their institutions. CoC students also hosted their first-ever Spring Lavender Celebration, honoring LGBTQ and ally graduates at the close of the academic year.