The LGBTQA club at West Chester University celebrates its 40th anniversary this October.
In 1975, the first group for LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual/ally) students was founded at West Chester University.
A few students joined together on the ninth floor of Wayne Hall and started the Gays of West Chester. Dr. Charlotte Bartlett, who was a part of the Department of Social Work, was the first adviser for the organization.
In 1991, there was an incident on campus that led to a discussion where students talked about what was happening on campus, primarily about racism and sexism. A couple of students spoke out about being a part of the LGBTQA community and how they felt marginalized. This resulted in people coming together and creating the LGB Task Force.
Dr. Jacqueline Hodes, currently an Assistant Professor at West Chester University, was on the committee for the LGB Task Force. They came to the conclusion to hire someone to work with students to create an Ally program. The LGB Task Force is still prevalent today, except it is known at the LGBTQA Advocacy Committee.
In 2001, Dr. Hodes became the assistant to the vice president of Student Affairs, with part of her responsibility being to work with the LGBTQA group.
In 2012, she became a full-time faculty member, and Aneesah Smith took over the job. The title now focuses almost entirely on LGBTQA services.
One of the accomplishments that have been made on campus is that there are all gender bathrooms throughout campus. There is at least one in every academic building, traditional residence halls, and all administrative buildings.
The resources that help and support transgender students have improved throughout the years. Transgender students are assisted to acclimate to campus life, and LGBTQA Services is trying to finalize policies for use of preferred names, as well as gender-neutral housing.
“The community has seen a huge shift in LGBTQA issues, particularly to the letters outside of the L and G,” said peer educator Rachel Perrego.
LGBTQA Services assists the trans community by helping them get their names changed and different things within the system. The services are there to support all students with whatever they may need.
In addition, LGBTQA Services is working on getting a peer-mentoring group on campus.
The peer-mentoring group would allow for students coming to the university the option to have someone reach out to them who identifies within the community. It is expected that this will be implemented in the university by spring of 2016.
There is a peer educator program on campus, which includes six peer educators.
These people go to different classrooms, organizations, residence halls, etc. and provide insight on LGBTQA issues. This is an opportunity to spread awareness throughout campus.
There is also an Ally program, which teaches people how to be an ally of the LGBTQA community. The Ally program gives people the opportunity to show their support and advocate for the LGBTQA community. Now, many faculty and staff members show that they are allies by having the symbol on their doors. Dr. Hodes quoted Maya Angelou, who said, “Now that I know better, I do better.” Now that people know about the Ally program, more and more people are able to do better.
The first part of the Ally program is LGBTQA 101, which gives an overview of what the community is about and what it means to be LGBTQA.
“As a peer educator facilitating these trainings, I see people walk in knowing simple terminology but walk out having a broader understanding of the community as a whole,” said LGBTQA President Shannon Gillespie.
There are also Speakout programs, which is when people in the LGBTQA community go to classrooms and tell their coming out stories. This spreads awareness, increases visibility, and provides knowledge.
“I’ve worked at WCU almost 30 years, spent my whole career, and I have to say I’m really proud of the institution because it’s really hard to make these kinds of moves,” said Dr. Hodes.
Malik Muhammad, the graduate assistant of LGBTQA Services and super advisor of the peer educators, described how the community has grown and has become more accepted in his time at West Chester University.
“Society as a whole has become more accepting and understanding of the LGBTQA community,” said Muhammad.
The club has helped to provide a place for LGBTQA students to come to and find refuge in.
“The club serves as a family for all students who come looking for acceptance, love and community,” said Aneesah Smith.
The LGBTQA club was awarded Organization of the Year in 2014, and then Program of the Year in 2015.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the President and his wife are hosting a private reception for donors, alum, and student leaders. There will also have a benefit on Saturday, Oct. 10. The proceeds will go towards the LGBTQA Endowment Fund, which will support the organization in the coming years.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, author Terry Mutchler will come to campus and speak. She is the author of “Under this Beautiful Dome,” which is about a secret love story between her and a State Senator. She is also an attorney and former award-winning journalist who was appointed as Pennsylvania’s first Executive Director of the Office of Open Records. This will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. in Sykes 252. There will be a formal lecture and book signing at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Theater.
The club is hosting a variety of events in the near future, including National Coming Out Day on Sunday, Oct. 11, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” along with Sykes After Dark on Friday, Oct. 30, and the Trans Day of Remembrance on Friday, Nov. 20.
There have been many successful changes to the University in the past 40 years, but more successes will follow.
“Society has made a point to say everyone should have the same benefits,” said Dr. Hodes.
As a community, the LGBTQA has gone through a lot of hate and prejudice, and in 1975 they stood up as a club and said, “I’m here and I’m not hiding.”
The community will continue to be proud of who they are, and for all students who are thinking of attending West Chester University in the future, know that it’s a campus that is progressive and proud of their community.
The LGBTQA office is Room 233 in Sykes Student Union, and people can find them on all social media sites @wculgbtqa. The group meets on Mondays at 4:30 p.m. in Sykes Room 252, and all are welcome.
Dana Perkiss is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at DP7854965@wcupa.edu.