When I attended Georgetown nearly a decade ago, the university’s relationship with LGBTQ students had been contentious for decades — a history rife with denied institutional funding for GUPride, subsequent lawsuits and reported incidences of hate crimes against queer Hoyas.
In fall of 2007, a particularly egregious attack and the ensuing inaction by the university spurred the Out for Change Campaign. A ragtag group of queer students and their allies rallied for the creation of an LGBTQ center, among other curricular and administrative demands. With a groundswell of support — including, eventually, from University President John J. DeGioia — the LGBTQ Resource Center formally opened in August 2008.
Today, the center’s director Shiva Subbaraman and the university have fostered Georgetown’s reputation as both an LGBTQ-friendly school and a Catholic campus. In October 2011, Paul Tagliabue (CAS ’62), the former commissioner of the NFL, donated $1 million to establish Georgetown’s Tagliabue Initiative for LGBTQ Life, which supports many of the efforts of the LGBTQ community, including a research grant award and the center’s annual retreat; a donation like this seemed inconceivable a decade ago. And this Wednesday, Sept. 27, the university will mark the 10th anniversary of the Out for Change Campaign.
It is a great story — a feel-good narrative with a neat ending. The campaign remains the most successful social movement I have been a part of and is a luminous, surreal memory of my days at Georgetown. Yet the story of the Out for Change Campaign is often truncated, becoming a simplistic story line. In sleek commemorative videos, university talking points and even in my own retelling of that pivotal semester, we gloss over the many challenges that our student movement had to endure.
Here is the narrative often told about the Out for Change Campaign: There was an abhorrent assault, a series of student-led rallies and an eventually historic forum where our president announced the creation of the LGBTQ Resource Center.
Here are the plot points that are missing: not just one, but two reports of assault against queer Hoyas within the span of two months. The ire from Georgetown’s LGBTQ community was not just premised on the crimes themselves, but the university’s dangerously delayed response. Our community — which receives public safety alerts within hours of burglaries — waited three weeks for information about the first incident and four days for the second. This was undoubtedly a fight about the safety of LGBTQ Hoyas, but it was also a call for more administrative accountability.
In the story of the Out for Change Campaign, our demands were met by the united support of students, faculty and administrators. This is partially true; our petition and resolutions were signed by 1,600 students and had the backing of several faculty and staff members.
In reality, as with all movements, energy and membership waned as time progressed, and victories were few. When we stepped beyond “civil” dialogue and toward more assertive tactics, we received backlash. We rallied in Red Square and marched to DeGioia’s office, but still faced pervasive criticism of our actions.
For example, the Editorial Board of The Voice ran a piece titled “LGBTQ Talks Need Dialogue, Not Drama.” One well-intentioned queer student emailed our campaign with a loaded question: “Could this [recent assault] be a result of overly aggressive tactics and exclusive rhetoric that GU Pride seems to be fostering in the last month?”
As the September and October days became colder and shorter, our group of ardent supporters dwindled. After weeks of appearances in Red Square, a cancelled open forum with administrators and being turned away from Healy Hall during a peaceful march, our organizing meetings could often be held on just two couches in the Intercultural Center. At those meetings, I could remember a palpable, insatiable fatigue that could not be fixed with a cup of coffee from More Uncommon Grounds.
I often left with more questions than actions: Could we really change the course of a 200-year-old Catholic university? Would it not be easier to just return to being a student focused on school and the future?
Thankfully, under the strong, measured leadership of GU Pride Co-Presidents Scott Chessare (SFS ’10) and Olivia Chitayat (COL ’10), in addition to the support of many others, our movement never wavered, and instead we soldiered on and eventually achieved our demands, most notably the opening of the LGBTQ Resource Center.
On this anniversary of the Out for Change Campaign, and in our current political climate, I find the movement in its entirety — the struggle and the success — more resonant than ever. This is a story of passionate students, long nights, painful failures and hard-fought victories.
This is a story that deserves to be told unabridged.
Jennifer Nguyen is a 2009 graduate from the College and a 2014 graduate from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.