Miami University Makes Strides Toward Acceptance of Gay Students
Students and alumni say that Miami University has created a climate of acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students, despite the school’s longstanding conservative reputation and location in a deeply conservative part of the state.
“I think the biggest obstacle hindering Miami’s accepting of the LGBTQ community is the campus’s tendency toward conservative values,” said Matt Metzler, an English education and English literature double major and co-president of the campus LGBTQ group Spectrum. “There is a long-standing conflation of conservative values and anti-gay views.”
Miami University was awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars on the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index compiled by Campus Pride, an advocacy group for LGBT students. The score was based on Miami’s LGBT resource center and course offerings, among other factors. By comparison, Campus Pride gave Central State University 1 star, Wright State University 3.5 stars, University of Cincinnati 4 stars, and Ohio State University a perfect 5 stars. The University of Dayton is not included in the listings.
LGBT resources and events at Miami include pride parades, galas, awareness week and a number of organizations. Miami also holds a yearly Lavender Graduation. Scheduled the day after graduation, the ceremony honors LGBTQ and allied graduates.
Metzler said one of his proudest moments at Miami was in October 2011, when gay and straight students joined forces for a Unite Miami rally to protest the planned appearance of members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church on campus.
“They were originally coming for a class but then they decided that they were going to picket while they were here,” said Metzler, “and that’s obviously a really sensitive subject for the LGBT community.”
Acceptance of gay and lesbian students at Miami is not complete, according to Carol Stubblefield, administrative assistant in the Office of Student Affairs at Miami University Hamilton. “A female student came in (to the office) just the other day in tears for having been picked on or bothered in class by the professor. There needs to be more direction and more experience for teachers,” she said. “They need to be more aware of these students.”
Stubblefield, who graduated from Miami University Hamilton in 1988, said the university was more judgmental when she was a student. Increased inclusiveness at Miami fits within a national trend at colleges and universities, according to GLAAD, an advocacy group formerly called the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Universities have become more inclusive of LGBT issues in their diversity services offices or having a specific program for LGBT services,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Entertainment and Operations Coordinator. “In recent months a number of universities have amended their student insurance programs to address the needs of transgender students.”
Townsend cited a recent incident at Emerson College, in Boston, where one of the school’s fraternities raised funds for their trans brother's surgery.
Janet Hurn, 48, a Miami alumna and full-time faculty member at Miami Middletown and Miami Hamilton campuses, has a life-partner in fellow Miami alumnae Tina Gregory. Miami recognizes that she is in a domestic partnership and the couple receives benefits from the university. Hurn said as a student in the 1980s, she used to feel like a second-class citizen, but no longer harbors those feelings.
Metzler, the campus LGBTQ group co-president, said one adjustment Miami could still make is to take gender identity into account for all first-year and transfer students’ housing applications.
“The first step will be to make sure that Miami advertises the existing genderneutral housing opportunities that they offer,” said Metzler. “The only place to currently learn about these opportunities is on the GLBTQ Services website.”
The challenge facing Miami is the same as the challenge facing the country as a whole, said Hurn: learning to accept differences. Beyond issues of sexual orientation and identification, we need to become “cognizant of differences and a tolerant society,” she said.