University of Nebraska at Omaha moving toward goal of campus-wide gender inclusivity and respect

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By Brooke Criswell
Online Content Manager

“Moving forward” is the term most used for the LGBTQ community on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus.

“LGBTQ” is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. However, a fifth letter is increasingly making its way into the line-up: “Q”. What does the “Q” stand for? “Q” can mean either “questioning” or “queer.”

As society changes, and more and more transgender citizens identify and come out, it comes time for universities to set policies for their enrolled transgender students.

In March, a student did not feel comfortable in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) building’s locker rooms. That student is a nonconforming transgender, meaning they do not identify as male or female. Within a week of being contacted regarding the situation, the Senior Director of Wellness, Joe Kaminski, asked what UNO could do to make these students feel more at ease on campus. This fall, there are now gender inclusive locker rooms regardless of gender identity.

PHOTOS BY JARED KENNEDY / THE GATEWAY
PHOTOS BY JARED KENNEDY / THE GATEWAY

Jessi Hitchins, Gender and Sexuality Recreation Center Director, said he couldn’t believe how fast everything changed. Hitchins understands the need for gender identity lockers and locations. The faculty does not intend to exclude anyone further, regardless of gender identity. Communication is a significant part of being direction forward with gender. Pronouns and phrasing of questions can make all the difference.

At the wellness center, Kaminski changed the forms for renting a locker to accommodate gender questions without assumptions. The reception workers also took a training program to learn how to ask questions fairly, such as “which locker do you prefer” rather than assuming based on appearances.

“How you identity gender is within yourself, in your mind it’s not what you express,” Hitchins said.

As for other inclusive actions on campus, UNO is taking Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations for the university’s bathrooms. They are mapping out each building to make sure there is an all-gender space accessible, along with changing the male and female signs to generalize toilet usage. UNO is also implementing multi-stall bathrooms in the all gender areas.

Dawn Cripe, women and gender studies professor, said UNO is fortunate that this change is taking place from the top down – it’s as if the artist is painting the masterpiece for others to enjoy and to provoke thought.

UNO is taking steps to further include every person in the community. This fall semester is the first to offer inclusive housing, where a transgender man can live with female residents and a transgender female can live with male residents.

In May’s graduation ceremony, UNO held a first-ever lavender graduation, which, according to Human Rights Campaign, only 100 colleges and universities have held nationwide. Nineteen students participated, donning a rainbow tassel with their cap and gown.

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“I’d like to see more specific studies related to the legal, social and political landscapes that affect the LGBTQ Community,” Cripe said. “Especially given the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. There’s more to it than just waving a rainbow flag.”

A new resource center for LGBT and women’s issues will be opened in the fall of 2016 to continue creating places for all students.

PHOTO BY JARED KENNEDY

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