Shane Whalley

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

Shane Whalley, education coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Center, explains bisexuality on Wednesday afternoon. The open training sought to educate the public about common misconceptions concerning bisexuality.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

While the queer community’s acronym includes the letters ‘L,’ ‘B,’ ‘G,’ ‘T’ and ‘Q,’ sometimes the ‘B’ gets left out.

In an effort to promote awareness about bisexuality and clear up common misconceptions regarding issues relating to bisexuality, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted social work lecturer Shane Whalley to present a lecture called “Learn More About the ‘B’ in LGBT” during Pride Week.

“Bisexuality is defined as someone who is emotionally, sexually and romantically attracted to more than one sex,” said Whalley, who is also the education coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Center. “This can be more than just men and women but also [transgender people].” 

Throughout the lecture, Whalley explained how many are unsure of how to handle the subject of bisexuality. Others are quick to label bisexuals as gay or lesbian, especially in relationships, Whalley said. Additionally, it was discussed how there are a number of issues not understood in the public eye regarding sexuality. 

“Many think that bisexuals are attracted to every gender and that is untrue,” Whalley said. “Others think that bisexuals are attracted 50/50 to each sex.” 

Whalley said sexuality cannot be assumed based on the sex of a significant other, because that implies attraction to one sex instead of two entirely different ones. 

“In my own world … sexuality is not seen as a label, but an interest,” Whalley said. 

Whalley said there should be a box saying people are interested in a sex, rather than labeling people under a particular type of sexual preference. 

“Bisexuality should be a part of the community, but it always isn’t,” Whalley said. “Society does not like to put things in a tiny box and have choices.”

Later in the lecture, audience members were selected to relay stories of a bisexual and gay member of the community and ask the audience for advice on handling certain problems. Such problems included placement in society, coming out to parents and identity. 

“I think that everyone is entitled to their own definition of their own sexuality,” said biology freshman Kari Yanez, who was in attendance at the event. “A lot of people don’t think bisexuals are ‘serious’ … which contributes greatly to the discrimination. Events like this help people learn and lessen the prejudice against the label.” 

Yanez said people need to understand the choices of others, and that should not hinder how others are perceived.

Lesbian. Heterosexual. Transgender. Bisexual. Gay. Questioning. Asexual. Queer.

Language is foundational to any conversation, and for the queer community, it is a double-edged sword. Language choice is frequently a source of contention, but it’s also the power behind our ability to educate the community about queer issues. I argue that language is often used to the detriment of the queer community. To avoid causing harm with this column, I feel compelled to clarify the word “queer.” I use the term as one of empowerment; it encompasses all identities sometimes cumbersomely described by LGBT-related acronyms. “Queer,” as I use it, is free from any externally applied derogatory connotations.

An obvious indicator of language’s impact is the effect of hate speech (or, ideally, lack thereof) on campus. Luckily, UT seems to be doing well on this front — with room for improvement. The University launched the Campus Climate Response Team in March 2012 as part of a “positive push to acknowledge that we want a university campus that is inclusive and welcoming of all communities,” said team member Katherine Antwi Green. The CCRT represents an effort on behalf of the University to combat hate speech directly, and it seems to be meeting success. According to the Princeton Review, UT scores decently on the campus LGBT-friendliness scale, especially in comparison to other Texas universities. That’s something to take pride in.

But overtly hateful speech is hardly the only way language can marginalize queer people on campus. Faculty and staff in particular often make comments that come across as insensitive without actually breaking any rules. For example, the use of the word “transgendered,” while technically correct in some academic fields, is widely considered disrespectful by some. A better approach is to remember that transgender reflects an identity, not an action. The term “transgendered” is as inaccurate as referring to a person as having “gayed” or “lesbianed.”

Unfortunately, not all institutions on campus have successfully accommodated the language of identity, including this newspaper. Shane Whalley, Education Coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center, has spoken to the Texan several times in the past five years but faced inconsistent pronoun usage. Whalley, whose pronouns are the gender-neutral ze/hir/hirs, is rarely quoted as such. The usual justification is that the Texan meets AP style guidelines, which aren’t apparently progressive when it comes to pronouns. As a result, queer identity on campus can be marginalized by the media even in efforts to raise awareness.

Another telling example of seemingly innocuous language about the queer community centers around the recent push for so-called Competitive Insurance Benefits. Formerly called Domestic Partner Benefits, this initiative would provide the partners of queer faculty the same amenities as their heterosexual counterparts. The new name came about due to fear that conservative higher-ups would shy away from expenditures benefiting domestic partners. The new name instead appeals to the Texas constitutional requirement of keeping the University competitive, broadly defined.

My utilitarian instinct is highly supportive of the renaming. The insurance benefits, if passed, will in fact help the University maintain a high level of competitiveness, in addition to being in the best interest of equality. What’s problematic, though, is that the renaming itself is indicative of a larger problem: queer people on this campus must resort to either covert or assimilationist approaches in order to have their problems addressed. Queer faculty have cause for concern when the only way their domestic partners can receive benefits is if they are erased from the official language and public consciousness.

Last month, a man assaulted two gay men downtown. One of them lost eight teeth and required fifteen stitches. This Saturday, GetEQUAL Texas rallied against hate at the Capitol in response. Ten days earlier, the City of Austin pledged its support for same-sex marriage, a stance diametrically opposed to a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution, which bans both same-sex marriage and “any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

So where exactly do we stand at the University? I certainly can’t claim to speak for the entire campus queer community (and Whalley does not either), but the general consensus seems to be that UT does a good job of fostering a safe campus climate. Though a laudable achievement, it is only a preliminary step toward the ultimate goal of promoting a fully inclusive environment. For now, queer people tend to feel like they’ve received a formal invitation to the “You belong on campus!” party, but a slight improvement to campus-wide tone could help us feel genuinely welcome and ready to dance.

Walters is a Plan II junior from Houston.

Shane Whalley, education and outreach coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Center, speaks to an audience

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

Students who identify as bisexual face unique challenges in gaining acceptance within queer communities and in society at large because of a lack of visibility and prejudices held against them, said speakers at a Monday event.

Shane Whalley, education coordinator of the University’s Gender and Sexuality Center, presided over a workshop that discussed those challenges, debunked myths and offered advice on coming out as a bisexual.

Whalley said bisexuals are often unrecognized within society and the image of bisexuals that people have in mind is often misconstrued by popular culture.

“For bisexuals, there is an invisibility within the broader culture and within the gay community“, Whalley said.

“Bisexuals are at the end of the letters ‘LGBT’ [lesbian gay bisexual and transgender] and are often not talked about in [a straight or queer] context, so they don’t feel that they have a safe place in [these] groups.”

The crux of that invisibility, Whalley said, is that we can’t identify bisexuality by sight alone. Whether a person is seen with a man or a woman gives no indication as to whether they are bisexual.

“There’s a difference between behavior and identity,” Whalley said. “But the only way we could know everyone’s sexual identity would be to have awkward conversations all the time.”

Popular culture instills a false impression that most bisexuals are women, Whalley said, because pornography and pop music feature mostly women behaving bisexually.

“There are bisexual men, but we don’t talk about them,” Whalley said. “When you say ‘bisexual,’ for a majority of people, the face of a woman pops up.”

Bisexuals also encounter negative stereotypes and myths, Whalley said. Whalley said myths and stereotypes amounted to a general belief that bisexuals are excessively promiscuous and not trustworthy in relationships.

“That is a representation that we get from pop culture, but it does not reflect reality,” Whalley said. “No sexual orientation is the gold standard of monogamy; we don’t get to play ‘Monogamy Olympics.”

A UT student who identified as bisexual but has not come out, said the workshop touched on challenges familiar to him.

“There’s a hierarchy within the LGBT community, and gays and lesbians get more attention than bisexuals,” he said. “Even in a more open place like Austin, bisexuals are still an oppressed group.”

He said progress has been made with regard to the popular acceptance of gays and lesbians, but that bisexual and transgender persons lag behind.

“We’re close to accepting ‘G’ and ‘L’ but we’re far from accepting ‘B’ and ‘T,’” he said.

Students, faculty and staff gathered yesterday at the Student Activities Center to discuss transgender identity and ways UT can better serve the existing transgender community. The Gender and Sexuality Center conducts multiple seminars throughout the semester in attempt to educate the campus community on gender issues facing the population. Shane Whalley, education coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center, led the presentation titled, “Transgender Identities: Expanding the Concepts of Gender.”

A transgender person is someone whose self-identity and/or expression does not conform or transgresses traditional notions of male and female. Their gender identity differs from their gender assigned at birth, ze said.

Whalley identified hirself as “gender queer,” a gender identity where one does not identify as male or female and often seeks to blur gender lines. If a person is gender nonconforming, the use of pronouns, “ze,” “hir” and “hirs,” rather than gender-specific pronouns may be appropriate when addressing the person.

“[UT Austin] needs to make classrooms more open to transgender people, and there are ways to do that,” Whalley said.

Four gender aspects exist inside every individual — sex, gender identity, gender expression and romantic orientation, Whalley said. Transgender people spend much mental energy on the first three aspects, attempting to identify and understand their gender identity. In contrast, heterosexual people mainly ponder one gender aspect — romantic orientation, ze said. Whalley said if any students’ gender is unclear, teachers and classmates should keep gender assumptive language such as “you guys” out of the classroom. Offensive slang words such as “tranny” should be avoided as well, ze said.

History senior Juan Carlos Suarez attended the presentation and said Whalley’s points were informative and enlightening.

“It’s refreshing to hear someone talk about issues that most people don’t even think about, such as gender identity and gender expression,” Suarez said.

Suarez is a member of Peers for Pride, a program training peer facilitators to lead sexual orientation and gender identity workshops across the UT campus. Suarez said transgender people feel safe at UT, but not welcomed. Even though Austin has a reputation of welcoming transgender people, some forget that provincial views on sexuality still exist, he said. Suarez said gender-neutral housing, which has been suggested by the student group StandOut, would make transgender students feel more welcome and included on campus.

Therapist Laura Vanderslice, who also attended the presentation, said spreading awareness is vital to the process of expanding the concepts of gender.

“If you are unclear on someone’s gender, don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Vanderslice said.

Whalley said rather than ignoring the issue of gender identity, people should focus on long-term culture change.

“The most important culture shift of all is to not base one’s gender on genitals,” Whalley said.

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Transgender presentation promotes gender-neutrality

Secretary of the Queer Choir, Lauren Cozart, second from the right, asks a question before the Meet the Queer Chorus Concert begins Friday evening. The event was the first organized concert by the Queer Choir.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

LGBT and ally students performed eight songs Friday to showcase pride and bring awareness to violence against LGBT people in the Queer Chorus’s first-ever concert, which the Gender and Sexuality Center sponsored.

The 21-member group performed songs including “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent,” a duet of “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty” from the television show “Glee,” “Sally’s Song” from the “Nightmare Before Christmas” with the lyrics changed to have gender-neutral pronouns and “When I Am Silent,” a song originally composed in honor of Holocaust victims which the group dedicated to LGBT suicide and violence victims. About 80 people attended the concert.

Queer Chorus president Christopher Acosta said the concert provided an opportunity to introduce the group to the UT community.

“Having people who are proud of themselves and proud of their community and proud of the people around so much so that they have to sing about it, I think that’s a very positive message,” Acosta said.

Acosta said the group, which officially began rehearsing this semester, provides LGBT students, who may be facing challenges related to coming out or situations when people use the word “gay” in a negative way, with an accepting environment.

“Any campus you go on, there are going to be places that are not always as queer-friendly as they could be,” he said. “I wanted to create a space where we could come and sing all that away and just be proud together, have fun together and be silly together.”

Acosta said music is a uniquely non-confrontational way to reach audiences.

“We can be proud and sometimes in-your-face, but just singing at you, which doesn’t hurt anybody,” he said. “It never harms anyone physically. Singing cannot create bruises.”

Queer Chorus faculty adviser Shane Whalley said the group provides a sense of community for students.

“I think for a lot of people, this provides a music home and a queer home and a way to express themselves that’s meaningful and joyous,” Whalley said.

Whalley said the Queer Chorus is particularly meaningful for LGBT audience members.

“For some audience members, it gives them hope, and they may see themselves reflected in the members of the chorus,” Whalley said. “For some people, it gives them a way to invite family to have a conversation.”

Undeclared freshman Leo Rodriguez said he is glad that the Queer Chorus formed.

“It’s great to see a group of people come together with music to tell the world that they’re proud of who they are and to try to make a change through music,” Rodriguez said. “Not many people do that. As you can see, there’s like 25 people and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people in the LGBT community.”

The Gender and Sexuality Center sponsored an Ally-training session where 12 staff and students learned about GLBT terminology, misconceptions and ways to support the community.

The program was one of many events during 2011 Pride Week. To be a GLBT Ally means you have taken the Ally course, are aware of on- and off-campus GLBT resources, are familiar enough with terminology to be comfortable talking within the GLBT community, and sit with only positive regard for GLBT people, said Shane Whalley, the Center education coordinator and event speaker.

Whalley said many people in Austin fail to consider the struggles that GLBT people face because they assume discrimination doesn’t happen in such a liberal city.

“There have been two hate crimes on Fourth Street this year,” Whalley said. “By not being aware of these things, you can be putting a friend in harm’s way.”

Whalley said heterosexism is a problem within the GLBT community because it is ingrained in our society and is hard to get out of the minds of many people.

“I’ve never had someone come up to me and say, ‘Do you think so-and-so is heterosexual?’” Whalley said. “Heterosexism is this basic systemic practice that assumes that everyone is heterosexual.”

Gender and Sexuality Center director Ixchel Rosal said many people purposefully or accidentally cause GLBT people harm by ‘outing’ their sexual orientation.

“Someone’s sexual orientation is really confidential, and outing someone’s sexual identity can be doing them more harm than good,” Rosal said.

Rosal said the media often fails to accurately portray the GLBT community and other groups with whom it interacts.

“They tend to put media focus on faith communities that are not supportive of the GLBT community,” Rosal said. “There is a Christian left, and there is a Christian community that is very embracing of GLBT.”

Meg Helpin, who is at UT as part of Americorps VISTA, a national organization that fights poverty, said after experiencing Ally training, she thinks it would be good for people both inside and outside the GLBT community.

“It’s just awesome to learn about the available resources we have on campus and about the support the UT [GLBT] community receives through the UT non-discrimination policy,” Helpin said.