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Saturday, June 22, 2024
Drake White-Bergey Gender Sexuality Campus Center GSCC.JPG
Decorations inside the UW-Madison Gender and Sexuality Campus Center.

Examining past and future LGBTQ+ activism on campus with the GSCC

Student activism on LGBTQ+ issues throughout UW-Madison’s history created a more accepting and safe environment for students, according to GSCC.

“Accidental Activism” was the unofficial theme of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Gender and Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC) event “We Are Here,” held in mid October at the Wisconsin Historical Society. 

The event hosted LGBTQ+ activists from throughout the university’s history, spanning the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) protests in the 1990s to recent graduates and current students. 

As activists talked about their different experiences, a single theme remained clear: None of them set out to become activists when they first came to campus. Eventually a problem presented itself; whether that be discrimination, lack of community for marginalized students or lack of resources. Each one of the panelists rose up to meet the challenge. 

“You see something, you want to fix it,” said Jordan Marsh, one of the panelists from the “We Are Here” event. “You fix it or you do what you can do to it.” 

A many decades long fight for various LGBTQ+ issues led up to last month’s panel.

Understanding historical context 

Marsh participated in the ROTC Protests on campus during the 1990s, which in turn inspired movements for the adoption of federal anti-discrimination policies around the United States. 

Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to pass non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation in housing employment, public accommodations and education in the early 1980s, according to politifact. 

By the 1990s, however, Madison students noticed a discrepancy on campus. While the state mandated no discrimination in education, the ROTC on campus followed the federal ban on those who identified as gay or lesbian serving in the military. 

After a Faculty Senate vote to remove the ROTC from campus, the Board of Regents voted to continue the ROTC to be active on campus. This led to a five-day student protest in late April 1990 demanding that then Chancellor Donna Shalala do something about the issue. 

The UW Board of Regents and UW-Madison administration voted not to remove the ROTC from campus but put funds towards changing the military's rules on a federal level. This culminated in the passing of the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993. 

Though it hadn’t been established at the point of the protests, this previous activism set the stage for much of the future of GSCC. 

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Remarks at the panel

Kacie Lucchini Butcher, director of the Public History Project, spoke at the beginning of the GSCC panel regarding pieces of LGBTQ+ history contained in the “Sifting and Reckoning” Exhibit, which is currently on display at the Chazen Museum of Art

Lucchini Butcher stressed the importance of education on the long history of activism not only on UW’s campus but around the state of Wisconsin, which is something the GSCC also wants to continue with its work. 

“We're doing this sort of historical retrospective — we'll be partnering with a public history project, ideally on that event, so we can showcase TPS over the years,” GSCC Director Warren Scherer said in reference to the 40th anniversary of the Pride Society.

The Pride Society, originally named the Ten Percent Society, was one of the first LGBTQ+ activist groups on campus. It was also mentioned by one of the panelists at the event, led by Alnisa Algood. Before she became the founding director of the GSCC, Algood arrived in Madison on “a whim.” Eventually, she joined the Ten Percent Society and became involved in what was by then a years long effort to create a GSCC on campus. 

Algood created the center in 1991, however, space began to become an issue during the center's first five years. Until 1998, the center was housed off campus after years of being denied space both in Memorial Union and the newly renovated Red Gym where the other multicultural centers were housed. 

In November 2002, the GSCC intended to participate in Shadow Day, where the university encouraged diversity by allowing students of color and LGTBQ+ students to “shadow” UW students for a day. 

UW, however, terminated the GSCC's participation in the event without telling any of the organizers, which led to student requests for the GSCC to become an official office of the Dean of Students. 

The name was officially changed to the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center — previously the LGBTQ Campus Center — in 2018 and moved into their current space in the Red Gym in 2020. 

Panelist Jelani Rivera talked about efforts in 2016 to reestablish the Black Cultural Center for students to create a better environment for Black students. Rivera also described the efforts of students to disrupt campus administration continuing business as usual,  in order to have their voices heard. This included a “die-in” at College Library, where students participated in nonviolent protest to call attention to the issue. 

Progress to be made at UW

The panelists noted that, despite such progress, the campus community still has a ways to go in meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ students. Panelist Adrian Lampron, former ASM chair, talked about their efforts to implement gender neutral housing options on campus. This resulted in the creation of Open House, the gender inclusive learning community located in Phillips Hall.

University Housing currently offers three options for LGBTQ+ students. Housing applicants can apply to live on the gender inclusive housing floor in the Lowell Center, for individual gender inclusive rooms in Dejope, Phillips, Smith, Waters and Witte or the open house affinity community in Phillips Hall. 

There are 145 bathrooms on campus for gender neutral use and a  2019 university policy mandates there be at least one gender neutral bathroom per floor in new and renovated buildings. 

Panelist Andi Hernandez emphasized the need to create more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ and people of color on campus, drawing on their experiences on campus as a non-binary person of color.

Despite the persistence of challenges on campus, it is still important, the panelists said, to learn about what has been done in the past and how we got to where we are now. 

“I think that the Campus Center has to hold space for folks to have both of those conversations,” Schererr said. “Look at where we were, and look at where we have to go. I don't think that you can have the conversation about where we need to go without knowing where we've been.” 

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Gabriella Hartlaub

Gabriella Hartlaub is the former arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has also written state politics and campus news. She currently is a summer reporting intern with Raleigh News and Observer. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.

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