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UIC center celebrates two decades of existence
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jason Carson Wilson

This article shared 3431 times since Mon Nov 24, 2014
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There's still injustice happening.

That's one reason University of Illinois at Chicago's ( UIC's ) Gender and Sexuality Center ( GSC ) remains a vital resource after two decades, according to graduate student and Gender and Sexuality Center staff member Anna Lepsch.

Lepsch, the UIC community and the larger community celebrated the center's 20th anniversary Nov. 20.

"While things may be accomplished, there's always more you can do," she said. "There [are] still issues that need to be addressed."

Student demands led to the formation to the center. Petitions asked for a center as well as domestic-partner benefits for faculty and staff—and reaped thousands of signatures. UIC would not offer benefits until 2008, but the center was up and running with full-time staff by 1995, according to Lepsch.

Until full equality has been reached, Lepsch said having affirming community spaces is important. Some students remain closeted and/or haven't discovered their true identities yet. And, those discoveries can still come with dire consequences.

"There are still kids getting kicked out," Lepsch said. "That's not as uncommon as people like to believe."

The center provides resources and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. Lepsch said intersectionality isn't ignored. The center collaborates with the African-American Cultural Center, Asian American Resource and Cultural Center and Latino Cultural Center.

GSC is one of UIC's Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change. Megan Carney, GSC director, spelled out its philosophy and mission.

"We understand gender and sexuality [are aspects] of a person's identity," Carney said.

The center operates from "a framework of intersectionality." Carney noted GSC provides meeting space for organizations as well as programs and events.

That includes Safe Zone workshops, which help create and sustain LGBTQ awareness. Carney said those workshops are primarily held on the UIC campus. But, occasionally offered to community groups.

"We meet people in different ways," Carney said.

Neither students nor other participants are asked how they identify. So, Carney couldn't label them as LGBTQ or ally. However, she noted 300 people participated in Safe Zone trainings this year, while 500 people took part in other GSC programs. The Lavender Graduation is among those other programs.

Carney said the ninth annual Lavender Graduation will be held at the UIC Forum this Spring. While the center helps usher graduates out into the world, it also reaches them academically.

"We don't teach classes, but we do go into the classroom," Carney said.

Faculty invites GSC staff to classes, in order to talk about specific topics or the center's resources. Carney noted that, sometimes, students receive extra credit for participating in programming. She stressed the need for safe space and the center.

"We're living in an interesting time," Carney said. "In some areas, there is some progress."

However, she acknowledged there's still a long way to go, calling attention to Nov. 20's other significance.

"We're standing in solidarity with Transgender Day of Remembrance events," Carney said, stressing the "horrific" results of homophobia. "There's a lot of education and work needed to shift society."

Julia Harris of Hyde Park, a senior majoring in English, identifies as queer and lesbian. "I think the center had a lot to do with coming out to myself [and others]," she said. "I met a lot of friends here. Seeing other people out ... I think finding a community helped me a lot."

Harris recalled being a freshman who was uneducated about sexuality and sexual orientation. The GSC helped learn and become more confident. But, it also provided a safe haven.

"I didn't feel constantly judged [here]," Harris said.

Monica Kelly, a 2012 UIC alum, reflected on how GSC had impacted her.

"It's been a very positive and supportive place," Kelly said. "The staff helped us grow as students and as people. They're almost experts at everything."

The 27-year-old Schaumburg native said she first came out as a lesbian in middle school. Her father was immediately supportive, but her mother struggled with Kelly's coming out. Dealing with homophobia forced Kelly, at times, to deny her true self.

"I think I've gone in a couple of times too," she said.

Yasmin Khoshnood, 23, who also hails from Hyde Park, came out at 19. "It's been really supportive emotionally," she said.

Khoshnood also said it's broadened her social horizons. She said the center is vital because LGBTQ people need a space where they can feel comfortable and learn about the community's issues.

This article shared 3431 times since Mon Nov 24, 2014
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