New LGBT coordinator keeps the door open for U.Va. community, whether gay, straight or questioning
|Above: This U.S. map demonstrates the sparsity of LGBT support centers at schools across the nation. Right: This symbol identifies someone who is sensitive and supportive to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people as well as those questioning their sexual orientation.
|LGBT Resource Center: http://www.virginia.edu/deanofstudents/lgbt/index.htm
Call to Duty Tour: Why the Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy Isn’t Working
Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Newcomb Hall Theater • http://www.calltodutytour.org
By Anne Bromley
Photo by Dan Addison
|Joy Pugh is the University’s first LGBT Resource Center coordinator.
Joy Pugh is glad she has understanding, supportive parents. That realization hit her when she worked at a small nonprofit organization for gay and lesbian teenagers in Charlotte, N.C. several years ago. Pugh said her parents were accepting when she “came out” and told them she was gay, but other young adults who come out to their families are often kicked out of the house and need a place to stay, or counseling and other services.
In October, Pugh became the University of Virgnia’s first full-time LGBT Resource Center coordinator — “LGBT” standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The center provides information, referral, support and programming to the University community, including alumni, faculty and staff, and works to raise awareness and inclusion of sexual and gender minorities.
“The resource center, now located on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall, opened its doors almost five years ago, receiving financial support from the gay alumni group, the Serpentine Society. The center provides resources, helps or sponsors groups such as the Queer Student Union, U.Va. Pride, Queer Grads (for graduate students), and Minority Squared, a support group for those who identify as both gay or questioning and as a person of color.
Shamim Sisson, senior associate dean of students, who hired Pugh, said “she combines a very strong foundation in student affairs practice with professional expertise in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity and an exceptional set of skills for working with our students.
She is uncommonly well prepared to lead the LGBT Resource Center both in its support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of our community and in its educational responsibilities to the larger University.”
At her job in North Carolina, for Time Out Youth, Pugh organized fund raising for the nonprofit organization and gave support to youth who were lesbian, gay or questioning their sexual identity.
“To see someone kicked out of their house, that changed my outlook. I saw how much they needed services, and I wanted to be more active,” said Pugh, who then went to James Madison University for a master’s degree in higher education administration, concentrating on student affairs.
At JMU, she co-chaired a committee on LGBT issues in fall 2003 and presented recommendations to the vice president of student affairs. Later that year she became a graduate assistant for the Multicultural Awareness and Student Health program, developing LGBT resources and programs, counseling and advising LGBT students and facilitating “Safe Zone” sessions.
“There’s a growing movement in higher education to provide LGBT needs, as it is a distinct minority population. Gay people have an extra social stigmatization they have to deal with,” Pugh said, referring to negative and homophobic attitudes.
Although the top universities have LGBT resource centers, U.Va. is one of the few in the South to have one, she said.
“It would be tempting to go to a geographical area where it is less difficult, but this is where the work needs to be done — in an area where many people still don’t feel comfortable being ‘out.’” she said.
The LGBT community is engaged in a civil rights movement, Pugh said. The movement was making strides in the 1990s, but she sees the political focus on preventing gay marriage as a backlash that has stalled that progress.
“There’s this idea that the LGBT community is trying to hijack marriage, a sense that the majority is going to be negatively affected and its rights diminished … but pulling others up to the same level doesn’t mean someone else loses,” she said.
“One of the best ways to educate people is with personal stories,” Pugh said. “One thing that often changes people’s minds is getting to know someone in their inner circle and finding out the person is gay or lesbian.”
Pugh is furthering that idea by continuing the LBGT center’s speakers bureau, which provides guests to give talks in classes, residence halls or other student organizations.
The center also is bringing to U.Va. the national “Call to Duty Tour” on Feb. 28. The group sends military personnel, both gay and straight, to college campuses to debate the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Call To Duty Web site says the experiences of gay men and women serving in today’s military largely contradict the presumptions underlying the policy — presumptions now nearly 15 years old.
In addition, several “Safe Space” training sessions are scheduled for the spring. In the program, members of the University volunteer to become part of a network of allies for LGBT students. They must take a two-hour training workshop before they can display in a visible spot the Safe Space sticker with the orange “V” against a rainbow background. The sticker says: “This symbol identifies someone who is sensitive and supportive to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people as well as those questioning their sexual orientation.”