Newly appointed Rainbow Center director Brian Edwards delivered a lecture Wednesday focusing on how LGBTQ resources at colleges create safer and more welcoming campuses.
The lecture was laid-back, with students sitting on couches. Edwards was informal. He admitted he’s still learning the history of the Rainbow Center and encouraged students to correct him or add facts about the center he didn’t mention.
“I welcome your input and your voice,” Edwards said.
In the Rainbow Center’s early years, UConn was not a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, Edwards said, reading a report on the center’s history. When the center was located in a house on Storrs Road, people used to drive by and shoot paintballs and BB guns at the center, breaking the windows. The center once discovered their patio furniture was thrown into Mirror Lake.
The Rainbow Center didn’t just face discrimination from students looking to pull hurtful pranks. There was also institutionalized homophobia against the center, Edwards said. Other departments and organizations wouldn’t work with the center because they didn’t want to be associated with LGBTQ issues.
Edwards said the center’s first office was a room in the Student Union that was 450 square feet, smaller than the room his lecture was taking place in. It didn’t provide students with a place to gather or to be supported privately.
In 1999, one year after the establishment of the Rainbow Center, UConn was named the 12th most homophobic college by the Princeton Review. In 2006, however, UConn was ranked among the 100 best schools for LGBTQ students by the Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students.
“We [saw] much transformation because of having a center, having a director working with these folks to create policy and to enhance the campus climate,” Edwards said.
Edwards also spoke on the balance between visibility and confidentiality at the Rainbow Center. Edwards said it was difficult for students to find the center when it was located in the tiny Union room, but also wants the center to provide a safe and private space for students.
“We want people to be able to walk in the door and feel like not everybody knows they’re coming to the center, but simultaneously, we want to be in a high-traffic area so people know we exist,” Edwards said. “I love where we are now; it’s still private enough. We’re on the fourth floor, but we’re in the Union.”
Edwards spoke about the LGBTQ movement around the country as well. He stressed students should be active outside UConn’s campus. At his last job, Edwards said he knew a student that was at the Pulse nightclub shooting. The student’s friend was shot.
“We’re connected to everything that happens nationally,” Edwards said.
While the Stonewall Uprising pushed gay rights to the front of the conversation in the United States, Edwards said the brutal murder of 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard created a need for colleges to protect their LGBTQ students.
“Following that incident, the field saw a dramatic increase of centers being created because everyone was like, ‘Wow, this could be our student,’” Edwards said.
While sexual orientation can no longer be used as grounds for firing someone and homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness by the American Psychological Association, Edwards said LGBTQ rights still have a long way to go.
Only 5 percent of degree-granting institutions in the country have centers dedicated to LGBTQ students, according to Edwards.
“That’s why I call [LGBTQ centers] a phenomenon in higher education,” Edwards said. “It’s quite a privilege.”
Emily Moreau, sixth semester education major, said she believes it’s important to understand the perspective of other communities, including the LGBTQ community, even if one doesn’t identify as LGBTQ. Moreau attends the weekly Rainbow Center lectures as part of a class and said she’s “learning about all different perspectives” through them.
Schae Beaudoin is the life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.