UVM in the top 30 LGBTQ-friendly schools

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I can remember one of my very first days at UVM clearly: standing in a circle at orientation and being asked by a cheerful leader for my name, hometown, and preferred pronouns.

Preferred pronouns? I had no idea what I was being asked. Preferred pronouns, their significance and the larger context of LGBTQ-inclusivity had never entered the realm of discussion in my rather conservative hometown.

I watched with amazement and joy as we went around the circle and people responded with their pronouns without a single person hesitating or joking in response to the question.

Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization that works to create “a safer college environment for LGBTQ students,” has recently named UVM in its Top 30 most LGBTQ-friendly campuses, according to campuspride.org.

This honor undoubtedly follows the recent designation of bathrooms in the athletic facilities, Bailey Howe Library and the Davis Center as gender inclusive or sometimes, gender neutral.

Looking into it more, I found a wealth of resources offered on UVM’s LGBTQA webpage. The site offers links for students who wish to specify their gender identity and preferred pronouns in documents such as class rosters, University medical records, advisee lists, transcripts among others.

This was just a small trend I’ve noticed around the campus community: the respect, the inclusive atmosphere, the University actively working to make itself a more LGBTQ-friendly place.

The efforts made by countless students, activists, organizations, and administrators has certainly paid off.

“UVM was among the first universities to have inclusive, all-gender bathrooms,” Becky Swem, education & outreach coordinator for the LGBTQA center, said.

“This work has been able to occur because of support at many levels; Justice for QTS (queer & trans students) who did extensive research and lobbying, to administrative support through a committee to address the next steps,” Swem said.

While inclusive bathrooms may seem like a topical issue to some, there has been a large response to the recent discourse regarding events such as the controversial North Carolina Bathroom Bill.

The new bathrooms mean a lot more. They represent safety for those who felt using single-stall restrooms singled them out or made them feel unsafe.

“Multiple-stall, all gender restrooms eliminate this singling out and help break apart the idea that there is a gender binary,” Swem said.

Still, she acknowledges there is still progress to be made.

“There is always more we can do to advance inclusion for all and continue to be a leader,” Swem said. Issues of race, racism, class, abilities and more are all issues within the LGBTQ community that need continued work.”

“I believe there could be more gender-inclusive bathrooms present on campus,” sophomore John Zambarano said.

While three spaces that offer such bathrooms are an excellent start, and one that has been lauded, Zambarano highlights a concern of many: that three may not be enough.

“There is still a need for visibility and intentional programs to help people feel safe and seen,” junior Emily Grace Arriviello said.

Arriviello is involved with Justice for QTS, the group that fought for all-gender bathrooms.

“I have heard from queer people of color and trans folk on campus that it’s more difficult to feel seen, to find spaces to cater to their needs and to have a place on UVM’s campus,” she said.

Though the University has made formidable strides towards including and listening to its active LGBTQA community, there is always more that can be done and more steps that can be taken.

This appears to be a challenge UVM has committed itself to: a future of progress, visibility, and inclusivity for all.