Kristin Pitts and Stacy Downs // Fall 2014
2014 is proving to be the most pivotal year so far for UMKC’s LGBTQIA community.
UMKC is already nationally recognized for welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and ally (LGBTQIA) students, faculty and staff.
But events from the past year has taken the university’s LGBTQIA progress to a new level.
In 2013, The New York Times noted UMKC’s policies for inclusivity and gender-neutral restrooms throughout campus. Newsweek named UMKC No. 5 in its Gay-Friendly College Rankings in 2011. And generous alumni donate money for Pride scholarships for LGBTQIA students each year.
Earlier this year, UMKC hosted the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference, affectionately known as “Mumbletalk,” for its acronym. The conference, in its 22nd year, is the nation’s largest LGBTQIA college conference, attracting about 2,000 students from all over the country, including Hawaii. The February conference had 90 workshops, with topics ranging from safe sex and healthy relationships to creating change on campus and ally-community building. It included nationally known speakers such as country music star Chely Wright and transgender woman Janet Mock, whose appearance earlier in the week on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live,” had created a media firestorm after Piers called her a man.
Attendees raved about the conference — and UMKC.
“Chancellor Morton received a standing ovation for his speech showing UMKC’s administrative support,” says Jonathan Pryor, co-adviser of MBLGTACC and coordinator of UMKC LGBTQIA Programs and Services. “When this conference started 22 years ago, college and university administrations weren’t so supportive. Now about 80 percent of the conference goers’ registration fees and many of their transportation costs are paid for by their home institution.”
After MBLGTACC, the UMKC Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management announced its preferred name policy.
Students’ preferred names, rather than legal names, are displayed in the Pathway Student Center (UMKC’s online student center) as well as on faculty class and grade rosters.
Transgender students who do not identify with their given name at birth, for example, can be known by their preferred name.
“A policy such as this helps foster a more inclusive environment for our students so they are not outed by faculty through roll call or some other student roster system,” Pryor says.
Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students recently upped UMKC’s star status. Campus Pride nationally ranks schools in its LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index. This year, UMKC rose to 4.5 out of 5 stars, largely because of the preferred-name policy.
“We’re pleased but we’re always working to make it better,” Pryor says.
And this year, Campus Pride honored Pryor with a Voice and Action National Advisor Award. He’s held the position at UMKC since 2012, but has been involved with LGBTQIA education, advocacy and programming on college campuses for a decade.
Pryor leads three-hour Safe Space training sessions at UMKC, during which faculty, staff and students learn about the LGBTQIA community.
“When we look at the history of the LGBT movement, we needed allies to be where we are today,” Pryor says. “One of the things I try to reiterate is that LGBTQIA is also for allies.”
At the end of the session, participants receive a colorful “Safe Space” sticker to display in their offices that identifies members of the university as a resource and support for the LGBTQIA community.
“Sometimes the door of change was open, and other times we had to kick it a few times and wait a few more years,” says Jim Wanser, retired associate director of the UMKC Counseling, Health and Testing Center.
Wanser joined UMKC as a student in 1973, and came out in 1975. Wanser eventually became the adviser for the original student LGBT group that formed in the 1970s. He says he has seen the university evolve from discriminatory to tolerant to accepting.
“Never in the history of the university have we been more supportive of our LGBTQIA student community,” Wanser says. “We can be proud of UMKC. We can be proud of ourselves. We have made UMKC a better institution.”