Western Kentucky University's students are no strangers to public organizing. A group of 200 students who prepared to demonstrate at a visit by U.S. senator Mitch McConnell back in 2010 ended up ultimately securing same-sex domestic partner benefits for the university’s employees starting the next year.
In the past year student activists have pushed the conversation forward both on campus and in their community. On campus, students recently finished a full year of meetings and presentations designed to convince the university administration to assess its LGBT-friendliness using the Campus Pride Index, which WKU completed in June.
The WKU Institute of Citizenship and Social Responsibility has been instrumental in teaching students about institutional politics and public organizing. The institute has a very visible LGBT membership and has consistently supported and demonstrated on behalf of LGBTQ issues. WKU’s Brave Spaces exist as a result of the institute’s work.
In WKU’s community, students have also collaborated with local residents to spearhead Bowling Green Fairness, a group dedicated to getting the city of Bowling Green to include LGBT people in its citywide nondiscrimination ordinance. WKU students have also stepped beyond their immediate community and organized the Owensboro Fairness group on top of Bowling Green’s.
The institute was a founding sponsor of the student-organized and student-run Fairness on Fountain Square initiative, which seeks to demonstrate local business support for an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Fairness on Fountain Square currently has 33 local business sponsors advocating for a nondiscrimination ordinance — the most of any city’s fairness movement in the state.
WKU’s queer and trans student group, Student Identity Outreach, has partnered broadly with other progressive organizations, such as Hilltoppers for Choice and and the Coalition for Gender and Racial Equality, creating networks of brave spaces across campus and fostering these environments in public with events like Condomonium and Rock 4 Choice, both of which had representatives from Student Identity Outreach present to visibly represent and educate visitors on LGBTQ issues.
WKU is also home to Kristen Guin, founder of Queerability — an LGBTQ and disability rights advocacy organization that is run by and for LGBTQ people with disabilities and works to ensure that the voices of LGBTQ people with disabilities are heard in the conversation around LGBTQ and disability issues. Queerability has been a constant advocate for fairer registration practices at WKU.
"What strikes me most about the WKU queer and ally community is their bravery and willingness to stand up for what they know is right even when it flies in the face of the administration," said Rachel Adams, faculty sponsor of Student Identity Outreach. "No matter how many times they are turned away or turned down, they do not give up — and their tenacity is slowly but surely starting to pay dividends on the Hill. I am proud of the LGBT and ally community on our campus and excited to see what's next for equality, both at WKU and in Bowling Green."
This article was written based on a review of Southern campuses from Campus Pride programs and services. For the purposes of this article, the South was defined as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The writing staff included Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer and the 2014 Campus Pride Summer Fellows HM Barton, D. Andrew Porter, Andrew Salman, and Isabel Williams. These student leaders have attended or are currently attending Southern campuses.