LGBT issues should be prioritized at UABy Chisolm Allenlundy | 02/09/2015 6:23am
Today marks the first day in Alabama’s history that same-sex couples will be able to have marriage licenses issued to them. It’s a reminder that, yes, Alabama can indeed strive for progress with a little nudge (shove?) from the federal government. However, as columnist Leigh Terry mentioned last week, we are far from achieving anything close to full equality for the LGBT community. Moreover, we should not be so listless as to wait for either policy change or judicial decisions to force the issue. Indeed, there is much the University itself can do to support its LGBT students.
Perhaps most immediately, the University can begin addressing the need for gender-neutral housing and restrooms. The University does not currently offer official gender-neutral housing, and accommodations can only be considered if a specific request is made by individuals who feel uncomfortable with their housing arrangements. Such a move would not, as many suppose, necessarily demand the construction of an entirely new gender-neutral dorm. Most of the dozens of universities across the country that do offer gender-neutral housing simply designate rooms in specific buildings. Particularly with as much new housing as the University has built, such a move would cost essentially nothing and allow us to be proactive about protecting the interests of trans students.
In addition, the University should consider incorporating more gender-neutral restrooms into its buildings. Few on campus have such accommodations, with a notable exception being the Ferguson Student Center and its two gender-neutral bathrooms tucked away in the back of the bottom floor. To say it is unreasonable to expect someone to traverse the entire campus simply in order to use the restroom is frankly an understatement.
Finally, the University could follow in the footsteps of many of its peers by establishing an Office of LGBT Affairs. It would be especially useful here, where intense violence and harassment directed at members of minority groups is not uncommon.
Though I have done my fair share of relishing in the fact that Alabama was not the last state to adopt this specific measure of social progress by legally recognizing same-sex marriages, we should not be so quick to pat ourselves on the back. Like a child finally cleaning her room after being threatened with punishment, we did not make this change of our own volition. The University of Alabama must recognize the power it has to shape the conversation around LGBT issues and use that power to advance the causes of this community that has been historically marginalized. The University has a duty to support and provide its students with opportunities to flourish regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification. And for the love of all things Southern, let’s not have to worry about being last again.
Chisolm Allenlundy is a junior majoring in philosophy and economics. His column runs weekly.