Sexuality Center

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Gender and Sexuality Center recognized World AIDS Day with discussions from two Austin-area speakers on AIDS and topics relevant to gender and sexuality. 

The event was part of the center’s 10-year anniversary celebration. At the event, English assistant professor Heather Houser read from her new book, “Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect,” and Ebony Stewart, local poet and sexual health educator, spoke on the widespread confusion established among younger generations in regards to gender and sexuality.

Houser discussed the central topics in her book and the relationship between the human body and its environment with reference to diseases such as AIDS. 

According to Houser, when there is a personal relationship with the environment, emotions play a large role in the daily life. This refers to a sick person who deals with his or her owns disease and is surrounded by society — its environment. Houser also said a harmonious nature between individuals and their respective environment should be at the center of politics. 

“What people feel can certainly be a form of knowledge,” Houser said. 

Stewart said there is often confusion and many questions when it comes to topics on sexuality, and it is important to address them. During the event, she read a set of lines from her poems to express such confusion and its normality.

“It is normal to fear what we don’t understand,” Stewart said. “Homosexuality is not covered within my curriculum when it should be, as it is important.” 

Advertising junior Kimberly Doughty said she believes bringing in speakers to the UT community is important to generate knowledge on topics related to gender and sexuality.   

“There are large misconceptions about things such as sexual health and relationships such as illnesses, and I think it’s really important to have such speakers here to broaden our horizons, especially in a place where we may not be as educated,” Doughty said.  “There’s always more opportunities to learn, and these speakers encourage us to want to learn.” 

According to Ola Ukaoma, a biology junior and peer educator in the Gender and Sexuality Center, engaging speakers are important to introduce to the student community as it’s a great way for them to learn.

“Speakers have the ability to make things personal,” Ukaoma said. “There is a lot of information online that you can use and a lot of resources you can utilize, but a one-on-one conversation that is engaging is a good way to spread information to students.”

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

Every Friday, the Gender and Sexuality Center tackles timely feminist topics as a part of their Feminist Friday series. This Friday’s event will address issues regarding a Halloween tradition: costumes. 

From the provocative to the most insensitive, costumes will be a subject of debate. 

“Well, I think initially the two biggest things that come to mind when talking about Halloween are culturally appropriate costumes and in terms of women,” said Tyler Grant, public health junior and staff adviser for the Student Leadership Committee. “People slut-shame women who wear provocative costumes. At the same time, those tend to be the only option for women, especially young girls.”

According Grant, organizing Friday’s talk began during one of the weekly meetings the Center holds with students. While this week’s Feminist Friday hopes to educate students, the Center will also be holding a screening of “Hocus Pocus” and a session of pumpkin and cookie decorating. The GSC will also have Butterbeer for visitors, providing a sober space to celebrate. 

“Well, hopefully they’ll gain a new understanding and kind of a new perspective, and it’ll be a lot of fun, too,” Grant said. “I mean, everybody likes
‘Hocus Pocus,’”

“Since it began last year, the biweekly student-run discussion series has facilitated similar conversations among students,” said Liz Elsen, GSC’s assistant director. “We’ve talked about Halloween [for] two years in a row. It’s one of our more popular discussions because people have a lot to say
about it.”

Although the Center is well-known for its work with LGBT communities and women, Elsen said the Center aims to be inclusive.

“We are a women’s center and an LGBT center here on campus, and we’re open for everybody.” Elsen said. “We’re actually, technically, I think a LGBTQA center because we have plenty of allies who utilize our space.”

For Ilse Muñoz, geography and Plan II senior, finding out about the GSC started with a search for a useful resource.

“I just kind of walked in one day because I heard there was free printing, and, then, I just kind of stayed here,” Muñoz said. “Mostly because I feel a real sense of community with the people that visit here at the Center, and there’s a lot of good stuff about it. I feel like I’ve become a more educated person and have met a lot of really cool people, and I get really good resources here.” 

This sense of community and the numerous resources the Center houses have been a draw for students ever since the Center opened 10 years ago. 

“We have an amazing library; it’s off the UT library system; we have workstations; we do programming,” Elsen said. “The heart of what we do is — we’re a hangout spot for students, kind of a home-away-from-home.”

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

After working to establish a women’s center at the University 10 years ago, Carrie Tilton-Jones will open a women’s center for the city Saturday. 

The Women’s Community Center of Austin, founded by Tilton-Jones, has been operating by hosting educational events since Jan. 2013, but it has existed without a building and full services.  Now, with its new building on the San Antonio Street opening, Tilton-Jones said the center will serve as a centralized space for women in the Austin community.

According to Rocío Villalobos, one of the center’s board members, the new center will provide educational workshops and have computers, printers, workspaces, a library, a children’s play area and a catalog of community resources for women, among other services.

“You have different groups that focus on different services that people may need, and what the women’s community center is trying to do is be a hub for some of those resources and some of that information,” said Villalobos, who is also the program coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center at UT.

Tilton-Jones, who took time off from pursuing a graduate degree at UT to work on the center, said she got the idea to open a women’s center while working as the co-director of the UT Women’s Resource Center, which later became the Gender and Sexuality Center. 

“[The Gender and Sexuality Center] became a home base for all types of women, from [the Rio Grande Valley], from Dallas, from Houston, from all around Texas,” said Tilton-Jones, who is also a founding board member of GSC. “And seeing the power in the women coming together and working together to make cool things happen was so inspiring.”

The center, located at 17th and San Antonio Street, is completely privately funded. The space will also provide another community space, which, Tilton-Jones said, is lacking in Austin.

“There aren’t as many public places where people can gather, and I felt it was important to have a non-commercial space,” Tilton-Jones said.

This center is not Austin’s first. In the 1970s up until the early 1990s, Tilton-Jones said Austin had a women’s center, but it closed for financial reasons.

“I was kind of surprised Austin didn’t have a women’s center of any kind,” Tilton-Jones said. “Most other large cities do.”

While Austin does have many services benefiting women, Tilton-Jones said the center serves to concentrate those community efforts and the center’s own efforts in one location.

“There’s a lot of great stuff going on for women in Austin, but it’s kind of hard to find,” Tilton-Jones said “There’s not really been a home base for the women’s community.”

Villalobos said she hopes the center will give University students connections off campus.

“I think it’s easy to stay in a UT bubble, especially as a student,” Villalobos said. “And we want to make sure that the center is another great resource for them besides the GSC or the [Multicultural Engagement Center] where they can meet folks that are interested in doing great things in the community.”

Marilyn Adams, an intern at the center and psychology senior, said that in addition to giving her peers resources in the community, she thinks the center could offer students a new study space.

“There’s also going to be computers there, so it could give students the opportunity to study off campus as opposed to a coffee shop where they would have to pay,” Adams said.

Chemistry freshman Julia Mace writes a haiku on a board where everyone can share their thoughts on weekly themes at the Gender and Sexuality Center Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Following failed legislation both at Texas A&M and at the state level that would defund LGBT centers and clubs in Texas, UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center remained a place for queer students and their allies on campus who need support, guidance and friends.

The center offers students space to learn what gender and sexuality means and how to talk about it by utilizing trained professionals, a library on LGBT studies and connections through LGBT student groups, according to center director Ixchel Rosal. 

“The center is open to all students irrespective of how they identify,” Rosal said. “Students don’t have to make the choice about which piece of their identity they bring into a room. Anyone, including non-LGBT people, can come in to learn and not worry about being labeled one way or another.”

The center hosts more than 100 training sessions and educational programs to groups that request the information, according to education coordinator Shane Whalley, who works with groups and organizations on campus to understand the topics and learn to be allies if they are not LGBT individuals.

“When you come out as LGBT identitified, it’s not like someone gives you a manual that explains all about your identity,” Whalley said. “This is a place where people come to learn more about themselves, in a place they know they’re going to get good information. People share stories and experiences.”

A difficult balance

The center opened in 2004 as a joint effort between a group of students who wanted an LGBT resource center and a group who wanted a women’s resource center, Rosal said.

UT alumnus Martin Torres can remember being on the 40 Acres at a time when being openly gay was not nearly as well supported.

Torres, who graduated in 1984 with an advertising degree, said trying to navigate his sexuality during the same time he was trying to discover who he was in college was a difficult balance, even without the fear of being ostracized.

“I think it was being rejected by friends and or family [that worried me most],” Torres said. “That was actually a common theme then — people would come out and their family and friends would reject them, and I think people today, through more visibility, are seeing that that’s not an acceptable thing to do.”

Torres said the mindset about being gay in the 1980s was completely different because of  various factors, such as a much smaller number of public gay role models, which affected the way of thinking back then.

Torres said institutional support was mainly sought out by members of the LGBT community who were already comfortable with their sexuality. Others who were less secure in their sexuality had fewer places to go without running the risk of being judged by peers. 

“There was some sort of LGBT — or I guess just GL — organization at that time, but it’s like joining a club that you’re not quite sure you want to be a member of,” Torres said. “But the kind of support that I got was from my friends. I had very supportive friends and some not so supportive friends, but the friends who did help me helped a lot. That was key to making me feel okay with who I was.”

Home away from home

Ash Hall, a psychology senior and StandOUT co-director, said her organization promotes queer issues through advocacy and political activism.

“The culture of the space is one that gives students a break from sexism, homophobia and trans-phobia while allowing them to build community together,” Hall said. “It is an amazing, revolutionary space that makes lives on this campus happier and easier. Students can reliably come to the space and feel free of judgment and interact with their peers. They don’t have to hide any core parts of their identities.”

Hall said the center is significant for symbolizing the University’s goal of being an accepting campus for the LGBT community.

“It was a home away from home, something especially important to me after a semester at a homophobic university,” Hall, who transferred from Baylor University, said. “The center gave me a community, taught me how complex gender and sexuality really are, helped me develop my leadership skills and assisted me in finding a purpose in life centered around social justice.” 

Kennon Kasischke, biology and psychology senior and Queer Students Alliance director, said the center is a connection point between the student LGBT community and the University. Kasischke said by working with student organizations promoting equality for LGBT people, the center has a relevant sense of student concerns and initiatives and can help accomplish them.

“I want it to be more visible to students on campus but still be a safe space and make sure students feel safe,” Kasischke said. “The center is also a growing resource for women issues and the student body should see the value in what the center has to offer people interested in these issues.”

Visible and out

Whalley said although the University has made strides to create an inclusive campus environment through having the center and encouraging student expression through organizations, there is still room for improvement at a cultural level. 

Kasischke proposed legislation at Student Government last week in support of maintaining funding for the center through student tuition costs and keeping the center a priority of the University and student body. Kasisichke said this was prompted by recent legislation at the Texas Legislature and Texas A&M University’s Student Government Association aiming to stop funding a similar center.

The SG assembly will discuss the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting.

Whalley said when all students feel safe to express their gender and sexuality in public, the campus will be fully inclusive.

“I hear people say it is a private matter, but I don’t think heterosexuality is a private matter,” Whalley said. “People should be able to be visible and out. You can see couples on campus, but you don’t really see gay couples on campus. There should be more respectful curiosity with the LGBT community, the way there is with heterosexuality.”

Printed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 as: LGBT center stands out from other universities'

Updated at 11:02 PM on April 18, 2013

82nd Legislature

State university campuses with gender and sexuality centers could have to add a “traditional family values center” that receives equal state funding if an amendment to the House Budget Bill from Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, succeeds.

The House passed a version of the budget that included this amendment Sunday. While presenting the amendment, Christian said universities such as UT and A&M would be affected because they have gender and sexuality centers that offer and encourage education about “alternative sexual practices.”

“This is not restricting [alternative sexual practice education],” Christian said. “If they’re going to [offer such education], they have to match the center, the dollars, the mortar and the cost of taxpayer dollars for traditional values. You would be able to go to The University of Texas and A&M and attend their heterosexual gender and sexuality centers.”

Gender and Sexuality Center director Ana Ixchel Rosal said according to her interpretation of the amendment, it will not affect UT since the center’s current $180,000 annual budget is not funded by state dollars.

“We get funding from students services fees and individual donations,” Rosal said. “So technically the University has not appropriated any state funds to support the [Gender and Sexuality] center. So a traditional family value center would get no [state] money because the state doesn’t fund us.”
Christian’s chief of staff Jon McClellan said the amendment was intended to affect UT and other universities, and they will look into Rosal’s interpretation of the amendment.

“That is news to us. I have a feeling our group has a different idea of what constitutes as receiving state funding than the Gender and Sexuality Center does,” McClellan said.

McClellan said as far as he knows UT would still be affected by the amendment.

“Obviously if the Gender and Sexuality Center is not funded by taxpayer and state dollars, [the center] would not be affected by it,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the implementation of the lawyers from the state and UT and all that.”

The amendment text defines alternative sexual practices as “gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning or gender identity issues.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, asked Christian to define “pansexual,” which caused laughter throughout the chamber. The amendment must still be approved in a joint committee, where the budget bill will head next.

“While it is humorous to you, it is humorous to me what we are allowing [gender and sexuality centers] to do with our tax dollars,” Christian said during the debate.

Rosal said the amendment did not surprise her but wonders how the bill will define traditional family values.

“We see all types of families and all those have traditions that go all the way back,” Rosal said. “I’m not exactly sure what is meant by that.”

One student said the proposal is only fair to support the diverse needs of the campus.

“For those people who do agree with LGBTQ, there are plenty of people who don’t [agree],” said Republicans on Campus President Justin May. “I think it’s important that as a University, there’s a free exchange of ideas and education. It’s appropriate that institutions provide information representing all viewpoints.”

Ben Kruger-Robbins, co-director of UT GLBT advocacy group StandOut, said the amendment will inhibit the possible growth of the Gender and Sexuality Center.

“These are really crucial resources for both providing a sense of community to LGBTQ and allied students and also promoting education to LGBTQ causes,” Kruger-Robbins said.

Kruger-Robbins said the item will only put more weight on an already-strained University budget.

“In a legislative session that’s supposedly focusing on budget cuts, funding family value centers is actually detrimental to the causes the Legislature purports to be working towards,” he said.


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After hours of debate, the state House passed its $164.5 billion budget bill Sunday, and massive cuts to higher education funding aside, state representatives are trying to place an additional burden on universities such as UT.

Of the more than 200 amendments the House considered before passing the bill, members passed an amendment Friday that targets higher education institutions that teach “alternative sexual behavior,” as amendment author Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, put it. If the Senate passes the budget bill with the amendment, universities with gender and sexuality centers such as UT would have to spend at least as much in appropriated funds on a family and traditional values center that promotes heterosexual behavior.

It is clear that the state would not provide additional funding to support these new centers, and with the millions of dollars of funding already cut from higher education, this new requirement would undoubtedly place a substantial burden on universities that promote diversity, acceptance and support for students encountering identity and sexuality issues.

Student fees from the University provide the Gender and Sexuality Center with about $180,000 each year, said Ixchel Rosal, the center’s director. Public funds, however, do not directly support UT’s center. As a result, this amendment will probably not affect UT, Rosal said.

However, Jon McClellan, Christian’s chief of staff, disagrees. “We obviously take a broader view of [what can be considered ‘appropriated funds’].” He said the state will have to leave the technical details “to the lawyers” but that the amendment was written with the intention of affecting UT, among other public universities in the state with gender and sexuality centers.

If the amendment achieves what Christian intends, the effect it would have on a university is two-fold: It would significantly impact budget allocation at universities as well as substantially minimize support for the GLBT community and its allies.

As the state reduces financial support for institutions of higher education, universities are struggling to make budget cuts disrupt as few academic areas as possible. If they are required to allocate funding to a new traditional values center, that transfer would mean cuts to funding in other areas. In all likelihood, those cuts may very well start with the gender and sexuality center to inversely reduce the amount necessary to allocate to the new traditional values center.

Despite Christian’s claim that he is not “treading on their rights to that, to teach alternative sexual behavior,” as quoted by The Dallas Morning News, Christian is, with this amendment, attempting to minimize resources and support for the GLBT community.

It is unfortunate that an amendment that considerably burdens universities and students such as this was passed with a 110-24 vote, while several amendments that were proposed to preserve higher education funding, including several that attempted to minimize cuts to the TEXAS Grant program, failed to garner the support needed to pass.