A decade ago, LGBTQ students at Georgetown had few places to turn for support. Before the advent of the LGBTQ Resource Center in 2008, students could only go to informal social networks — usually in secret.
Nine years later, the LGBTQ Resource Center celebrated its anniversary in a panel Wednesday highlighting the campus’s great leaps in LGBTQ inclusion. The panel included current and former university administrators in addition to alumni who were leaders of the Out for Change Campaign, Connor Cory (COL ’10, LAW ’16), Julia Reticker-Flynn (SFS ’08) and Jason Resendez (COL ’08).
Student activists founded the Out for Change Campaign in 2007 after years of discontent in the campus’s LGBTQ community, which came to a head after a Georgetown student was arrested for an alleged homophobic hate crime against a fellow student.
Cory, a former student who was active in the original campaign, said the campus climate for LGBTQ students had been lacking long before the alleged attack. Without on-campus support for LGBTQ students, queer students were forced to form informal support networks of their own.
“Everything was so hush-hush,” Cory said. “A lot of what we did was gather off campus. People just did not feel comfortable being out and open on campus, so we relied a lot on informal networks.”
Reticker-Flynn, another student involved in the original campaign, said LGBTQ students accustomed to limited visibility were skeptical that the university would act — particularly after the university took weeks to publicly announce the incident.
“The skepticism came from the fact that we had spent three weeks in silence. It’s important to remember that that silence showed that it wasn’t clear that the university values LGBT young people,” Reticker-Flynn said.
For LGBTQ students, Resendez said, the university’s underwhelming response felt like a sign of disregard from an institution they valued deeply.
“It was about feeling included and part of a community that, for a lot of us, we invested a lot in Georgetown. I’m a first-generation college student. Georgetown was a lifeline for me and my family,” Resendez said. “So for that institution to turn its back on you, that they didn’t value your public safety and its actions embodied that value, that was traumatic.”
However, Reticker-Flynn said the students were driven by a sense of hope that real, lasting change could finally be achieved.
“I was feeling both a skepticism but also a belief that something bigger was possible,” Reticker-Flynn said. ““There was also this possibility of coming out, and this was something we reiterated during our meetings leading up to the campaign.”
The Out for Change campaign called for the formal creation and staffing of the LGBTQ Resource Center, as well as a more effective security alerts system and other protections for LGBTQ students’ safety on campus.
The campaign garnered over 1,500 signatures, and in October 2007, University President John J. DeGioia agreed to the campaign’s central demand for a resource center in a historic town hall.
DeGioia cited the town hall as a watershed moment in the university’s history, saying the campaign enabled the university to provide better support for its queer students.
“Present in that evening in October and in the work that followed was an extraordinary commitment by our community to build a more inclusive community, and by our shared conviction that we could and should do more to support our LGBTQ community,” DeGioia said. “We are at our very best when we recognize our responsibilities to one another.”
The LGBTQ Resource Center has since expanded to hire two full-time and four part-time student staff members and to host awareness events such as OUTober, a month-long celebration of LGBTQ students, and Lavender Graduation, a ceremony highlighting the contributions of LGBTQ seniors to the Georgetown community.
After receiving a $1 million endowment in 2011 funded by the Vice Chair of the Georgetown Board of Directors Paul Tagliabue and his wife, Chan Tagliabue, the center now funds research on gender and sexuality studies along with its central mission of providing resources for LGBTQ students.
DeGioia said Georgetown’s efforts to serve LGBTQ students continues 10 years after that event.
“While we recognize that there is always more work for us to do, we also recognize that the work we’re able to do today has been made possible by the efforts of those who have come before us and by the moments in time when our community has come together in extraordinary ways to deepen our commitments to one another,” DeGioia said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson recalled that in the fall of 2007 the university had to make significant changes to ensure the safety of LGBTQ students.
“Very difficult situations made clear that these gradual steps, while they moved us forward a bit, while they were well intentioned, were not the kind of transformative change that we needed to truly be the university we were being called to be,” Olson said.
Former Vice President of Mission and Ministry Fr. Phil Boroughs, S.J., said providing a space for the university to better recognize the needs of students was an important campaign achievement.
“So much of the conversations we need to have as a people on so many topics, but particularly this one, we really don’t start with concepts and ideas, as important as they are to educators,” Boroughs said. “We start with relationships because the context of relationships changes how we think about categories and ideas, and if we objectify people into concepts and ideas that are not based on who they are or how we know them, our conclusions never match the realities we hope for.”
Rosemary Kilkenny, Vice President for Diversity and Equity, said the 1987 District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision in Gay Rights Coalition v. Georgetown University gave students a reason to believe in change. The decision mandated that the university provide “homosexual” groups with the same rights as other campus organizations, citing the D.C. Human Rights Act and the public interest in the “eradication of sexual orientation discrimination.”
“It really gave students a greater sense of purpose and a greater commitment with which they were going to continue to make sure there was complete change and transformation so that their voices could be hard,” Kilkenny said. “They could thrive and they could be as successful as they wanted to be and to be recognized as human beings on this campus like everyone else.”
Resendez, a student involved in the original Out for Change campaign, said both the campaign and university ensured that queer students became a significant part of the Georgetown community as a whole.
“It was about feeling included and part of a community that, for a lot of us, we invested a lot in Georgetown. I’m a first generation college student. Georgetown was a lifeline for me and my family,” Resendez said. “So for that institution to turn its back on you, that they didn’t value your public safety and its actions embodied that value, that was traumatic.”
Resendez said the Out for Change campaign serves as an example for future change.
“The success of the campaign was our ability to draw connections between communities and between identities and between issues,” Resendez said. “That’s the only way forward, especially as we are continuously marginalized, the only way we can advance is to build community.”
Correction: This article previously stated the LGBTQ Resource Center celebrated its tenth anniversary. The center is celebrating the ninth year of its foundation in 2008, while the panel marked the 10-year anniversary of the 2007 Out for Change campaign.