As schools across the country respond differently to President Biden’s efforts to expand LGBTQ+ rights, Missouri Southern remains an accepting and inclusive space for students, faculty, and staff.
President Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office which protected gay and transgender people against discrimination in health care, schools, and their workplaces. In his executive order, Biden said, “children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”
Following President Biden’s executive order, six states have begun the process of creating legislation loopholes, especially to prohibit transgender females from competing in women’s sports. While controversy continues to rise regarding the rights of gay and transgender youth, Southern plans to provide a safe environment to all LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff.
“I would say the expansion of those rights means a great deal to our students, faculty, and staff at Southern,” said Stacey Clay, Southern’s diversity committee chair. “They will open up doors for us to have more equity and to be able to respect people’s lives the way that they are and the way that they want to be.”
While respect and inclusivity are fundamental qualities, Southern aims to uphold the university’s plan to offer security as well. “I think this is really an opportunity for Southern’s LGBT students, faculty, staff, everyone, to feel more secure,” said Kayla Reed, Southern’s interim head of the Safe Zone committee.
If you aren’t heterosexual, the act of embracing one’s own gender or sexual identity can come at a price. Most people from the LGBTQ+ community have faced some type of discrimination including bullying, name calling, assault, and death in the most serious cases. Projects like Safe Zone include training workshops meant to create awareness for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
“With Safe Zone, we try to do as much training for Southern’s staff and faculty, as well as some students in leadership positions such as RAs in dorms, receive Safe Zone training so they understand the problems LGBTQ+ go through and they can help to not only try and prevent, but act as well,” said Reed.
With nearby states who are attempting to limit LGBTQ+ opportunities, students might look elsewhere for higher education. “I would hope potential transfers would see Southern as a more welcoming atmosphere for them,” said Clay.
A student’s sense of security and welcomeness from their community will likely influence their willingness to remain where they are.
“If a student doesn’t feel safe on campus, they’re not going to stay. They are going to go somewhere where they do feel accepted and safe. Same with faculty and staff. As an employee at Southern, if I didn’t feel safe here as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I would leave,” said Reed.
Reed said that it isn’t enough to just be diverse. Southern must encourage and protect diversity by providing a place where students, faculty, and staff have the chance to be themselves and where discrimination has consequences.
Consequences for discrimination are crucial in creating a welcoming environment for the cultural melting pot of students, faculty, and staff at Southern. If acts of discrimination aren’t being reported, no one can do anything about it. If it appears discrimination is occurring on campus, both Clay and Reed recommend immediately going to the Student Affairs office.
Clay also recommended other options on campus to deter discrimination, such as meeting with one of the several faculty and staff members who are Safe Zone trained, who can be identified by a sticker outside of their office. Campus police are another option for reporting discrimination.
Reports of discrimination do not have to come from the victims. There are many ways allies can assist in making Southern feel more welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community. Clay advises allies to be continually outspoken and continuing education to bring some light to those who might not understand what LGBTQ+ is.
“A lot of times people just don’t know or they don’t understand, and when they don’t understand something, they automatically feel like they don’t want anything to do with it,” said Clay.
Reed believes it is important to keep an open mind, listen to the person you are talking to, and respect their preferences.
“If you make a mistake, don’t worry about feeling guilty, worry about doing better,” said Reed.
While Southern prides itself on inclusivity, not all places respond well to differences. According to the Trevor Project, a national organization aimed at providing crisis intervention among LGBTQ+ youth, most major impacts are caused by family rejection regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Family rejection towards the LGBTQ+ community leads to higher suicide rates, higher reports of mental illness, and a higher rate of illicit drug use. About 40% of the population of homeless youth are among the LGBTQ+ community.
“My advice for any LGBTQ+ students who are planning to come out would be to make sure you feel like you’re in a safe place and know it’s not always something that will be easy, but you will have support and resources on campus,” said Clay.
For LGBTQ+ students searching for a sense of community, there is a Gay-Straight Alliance on campus. Additionally, Southern has many resources for students who are facing hardships. The Student Success Center offers many resources to help a student back on their feet and the Lion Co-Op offers free food and feminine hygiene products. The Lion Co-Op is currently offering online ordering and pickup. Visit localline.ca/mssu-lion-co-op and register with your student email.