The University of Kentucky Office of Institutional Diversity has established its first Office of LGBTQ* Resources to create a more inclusive environment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the campus community. One of the office’s first events is a trans* speaker’s visit to campus to address her transition process and current activist focus.
The new UK Office of LGBTQ* Resources, led by Lance Poston, intends to grow its outreach to reliably serve all the LGBTQ* individuals on campus and to function as a communication and educational hub for the entire community in sustainable and organized ways.
The acronym LGBTQ* stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, broad terms to describe the individuals who are a part of this community. However, everyone in the community does not identify solely with these five words; the asterisk has become a commonplace way to reflect that gender identities and sexual orientations exist beyond the acronym and that the university is open and affirming to everyone.
“Transgender, often shortened to trans*, is the accepted term for individuals whose gender identities do not match the gender identity they were assigned at birth. Often the term is assigned to individuals who physically transition (from male to female, or female to male), however, this does not represent all of the trans* population,” said Poston, director of the LGBTQ* Resources Office. “One can be transgender without physically transitioning and is not required to follow the socially constructed male/female binary. To affirm a person’s dignity of being authentically born a certain way, we use transgender or trans* in lieu of transgendered.”
Opening its doors to students for the fall 2015 term, the LGBTQ* Resources Office will host a number of events for students, staff, faculty and the community. A panel discussion of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 is scheduled for noon Thursday, Aug. 27, in the William T. Young Library UK Athletics Auditorium. On Oct. 6 Kristen Beck, a trans* Navy Seal, will describe her transition and her current advocacy focus. Later that month, an expert panel is being developed by Gender and Women’s Studies to focus on the word “queer.”
UK President Eli Capilouto has developed a strategic vision for UK that highlights diversity and inclusion, and the LGBTQ* office is positioning itself to fulfill that vision.
“For the last 10 or 15 years, offices similar to this one have popped up, especially in leading institutions,” Poston said. “I think the university has, for the last several years, had a reevaluation of what it means to be a diverse and inclusive space.”
In response to this reevaluation, Poston is developing a pilot program, SafeZone, to facilitate community awareness of the basic competencies relating to LGBTQ* experiences. SafeZone will provide a regular educational workshop throughout the spring 2016 term.
Originally from South Carolina, Poston attended South Carolina Presbyterian College for his undergraduate studies, with a primary focus on history and English. Poston relocated to Athens, Ohio, finishing his master’s degree in LGBT history at Ohio University. Poston was very active in LGBTQ* advocacy and focused on trans* health benefits and student health insurance. Poston also founded the university’s annual LGBTQ* history month lecture and co-founded a regional career studies conference in Ohio.
“A lot of the themes that I’m working with in everyday experiences in this job are things that I’ve read about, written about, and for the last two years taught about. I see this all as a culmination of things that interest me, that I’m passionate about, and that I think are important to talk about and work on,” Poston said.
Poston is dedicated to expanding the LGBTQ* outreach across UK’s campus, in hopes that the office will develop and continue to grow and operate beyond him.
UK’s LGBTQ* Resources Office is the fourth such center in Kentucky. While the office may be the first of its kind on UK’s campus, many other student organizations and faculty have been involved in relevant issues long before its creation. Other student- and faculty-run organizations dedicated to the special concerns of the community included the UK LGBTQ* Task Force, the Counseling Center, the Office of Institutional Diversity, and OUTSOURCE. These organizations have developed the beginnings for the LGBTQ* Resources Office to build and expand on the focus of this community.
Poston hopes the office’s impact will serve all of the students, faculty and staff on campus by creating safe places for important conversations about sex, sexuality and gender identity to take place.
“Whether they are coming out spaces, social spaces for LGBTQ* folks, spaces for cultivating allies, or spaces for simply finding a middle ground of mutual respect, having these areas for dialogue is my main goal,” Poston said.
“I have been listening to folks across campus and building the groundwork to create specialized programming and services that serve UK’s unique needs,” he added. “I have learned from them that the office needs to help increase visibility of the LGBTQ* communities, to celebrate the life experiences of folks in those communities, while at the same time work to decrease marginalization of LGBTQ* focus whether its on campus or more broadly in many places in Lexington.”
The office, located temporarily in 302 Blazer Hall, will include an additional meeting space for students to use at their leisure. When construction is completed, the office will be located in the new Student Center. Poston has also opened an extension office in H Pavilion at Chandler Hopspital to support medical students and professionals within UK HealthCare. He is in that office every Friday.
“I’m there doing many of the things as far as advocacy and education that I do on main campus, but I am an intentional physical presence in the hospital and for our allied medical students and professionals,” Poston said. “So I’m looking forward to many expansions in Chandler and throughout UK HealthCare.”