Beginning July 1, the Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Transgender Resource Center or LBGTRC within the Division of Student Affairs and Services at Michigan State University will be renamed the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center. Jesse Beal (they/them/theirs) is the center's director.
“Our center is a student-centered campus resource that works to celebrate, affirm, and empower LGBTQA+ members of the Michigan State University community,” says Beal. “We are the hub of LGBTQA+ life on campus, a home away from home. We also provide trainings, workshops, consultation services, and educational programs for all of campus.
“But at the end of the day, our whole job is making sure that LGBTQA+ students know that they are whole and perfect and complete exactly as they are and that we celebrate who they are and everything they do on our campus and beyond.”
Why the name change, Jesse? And why now?
“We have been asking for this name change for a while. Our students have been asking for this name change for even longer. The running joke among the student population is that it's a typo of some sort, and so students love to troll us about our persistent typo in LBGT Resource Center. The truth of it is, when the name was created that the acronym was less static than it is today. Right now, there's a particular order that is more common and understood to be correct. That wasn't the case 15 years ago when we named our center. There is some mythology around that part of why the B is further up in the acronym; it was to center bisexual folks. And that's great. We don't want to give up that part of our mission. We will do the work of supporting bisexual, pansexual, and fluid communities, but we think we can do that with a name that's more inclusive.
“In addition to this, centers around the country have been moving to the gender and sexual diversity model for center names to get away from the acronym because the acronym is inherently exclusive. We're always adding new vocabulary for folks to better describe their experiences of gender and sexuality, which is a good thing. Because LGBTQA+ people have only been talking about ourselves in public for a relatively short period of time. But the acronym gets longer and longer. That means we would have to change our name again and again. And we wanted to move away from that into something that feels more inclusive for all parts of the community, so people with all genders and sexualities.”
Oprah Jrenal (she/her/hers) is the center's assistant director.
“The name is more representative of what we do,” Oprah says. “We talk about gender. We talk about sexuality. We provide resources around exploration of gender and sexuality for our students. We affirm them and we give them permission to do that exploration, to choose the words that feel best or hurt the least. And we also uplift them and we encourage them. This actually speaks to what we do more so than the letters encompass.”
As part of the official name change, the center is asking MSU students to participate in a t-shirt design contest. The winning entry will become the official Gender and Sexuality Campus Center's t-shirt. April 30th is the deadline to submit an entry.
“Part of what we were doing to get folks excited about the name change is to have students submit a graphic to be our t-shirt design,” Beal says. “It's not our official logo, but it's a graphic that we're going to use here and there in promotional materials that we're hoping is going to show the spirit and the heart of the center, centering LGBTQA+ folks, trans and non-binary folks in particular, and queer and trans folks of color. Showing who we are and what we value. And so, if anyone is interested, you have until the end of the month to submit a design, one design per person. And then it's going to end up on a t-shirt that we're going to give away thousands of to campus when we return to campus in the fall.”
Using a person's preferred pronouns when interacting is important to promote inclusion and so is understanding the differences between gender, sex, and sexuality.
“People should know that everything they've been taught about gender has been limited and has not included folks who have always existed in our culture, but society has gone out of its way to exclude people who have always existed in our culture and society across the world,” Oprah says.
“The next thing I want people to know is that they can unlearn and undo what has been done to them around this gender binary stuff, like they can get out of it. They just have to make the choice that, you have lived one life, you only know what you know, but there are other folks who are living and their stories are just as valid and real as your story is. And so, how can you unlearn the stuff that's been given to you so that you can make more room to love and to care about people that are different from you?”
Jesse, Oprah, and students Valentine (she/her/hers) and Camille (she/her/hers) talk about the difference between gender and sexuality. And they distinguish romance from sexuality. And they encourage “practicing active mindfulness.” And they talk about how suicide prevention is a key initiative of the center.
“I think it's really important to unlearn and then relearn all the things that you know about gender and sexuality,” says Camille. “It's like unlocking a part of your brain and reprogramming it to function in a different way. It's really important and really special when you get to the point where you get to decide and dictate who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world and understanding that you don't have to be locked in or tied to any specific label or box. I think that's really what is the beauty behind gender and sexuality because you have the freedom to choose. That choice is very important, especially when it comes to pronouns. Because a lot of times, people get stuck on the language or the grammar of pronouns when the English language or language in general is made up. It's like we really don't have to be stuck by that. The process of rewiring your brain to reach that new level of understanding is super cool.”
Students Valentine and Camille appreciate the leadership, counsel, and direction the center offers and provides.
“We use the center as a conduit to contact other organizations that are focused on the same goals; the center can facilitate a lot of that interaction,” says Valentine. “Even though the entire campus essentially is virtual right now, we’re still able to have the sense of community that is facilitated by the center. It has really been one of the highlights of my college experience, honestly, being able to access so many different people who I would never meet otherwise and do things that I would otherwise not get to do.
“I have so many different opportunities to thank the center for in terms of leadership and professional development. It's absolutely essential, I think, to my college experience as a trans person, but I'm also certain that it is to so many other queer people. It's like a cornerstone of the way we experienced the university.”
“I completely agree,” says Camille. “I think the name change is necessary because it offers a new step in the direction of becoming a more united front on campus. Not only with the queer orgs on campus, but also the typical hetero clubs on campus as well, because it's kind of saying like, ‘We are all going through the struggle, so why don't we just go through it together? Why can't we support each other in a way that we need to?’ We're making good progress and we're making good strides. I'm excited to see what the rest of 2021 looks like as well as 2022.”
“Everything we do is an act of love,” says Beal. “Everything we do is because our students deserve the very best and we are doing our very best to make sure that they know exactly how awesome they are.”
In summary, Jessie Beal says.
“On July 1st, we will become the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center. This name change is important to us because it is more inclusive, it is more current and, most importantly, it's what students wanted. We're entering this new time at MSU, this time of great promise for LGBTQ inclusion with a new name. We're so excited to be doing this with and for our students.”
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