Author: Alex Yates
There are flashes of the rainbow across UAB’s campus, from a sticker on a computer or water bottle to a pin worn on a backpack or a smiling person’s jacket. More and more, the rainbow has been welcomed on campus.
Since the establishment of SafeZone led by faculty at UAB in 2001, UAB has continued to embrace LGBTQ individuals and offer support services such as gender affirming care and partner benefits. In the last decade, the culture at UAB has changed noticeably, with expansions in anti-discrimination protections and a growing atmosphere of acceptance led by queer educators.
Travis Morgan-Chavers, a course instructor in the UAB School of Education, joined UAB as an undergraduate student in 2013. Even though student groups such as SafeZone existed on campus at the time, UAB had not yet created a widespread space for dialogue with LGBTQ+ people attending the university.
“When I first started in undergrad at UAB, it was just coming to be the movement of safe spaces. Honestly, I didn’t explicitly or openly talk with people about being queer in any way. I would not volunteer information,” said Morgan-Chavers.
Since Travis Morgan-Chavers’ time as an undergraduate between 2013 and 2015, the acceptance on UAB’s campus has changed dramatically. Students at UAB now have access to affirming groups like Queer Peers, SafeZone or GRADient, and LGBTQ professors also have their own support network, the Alliance for LGBTQ
The Alliance for LGBTQ Equality is an employee resource group of approximately 160 faculty and employees at UAB. This group connects and empowers members of the LGBTQ community while advancing UAB’s Strategic Diversity Plan.
“More faculty and staff are out now than used to be, but when I first got to campus a long time ago, people really weren’t out. In fact, there were some groups that would meet in secrecy. They would have these informal word-of-mouth meetings,” said Maigen Sullivan, an adjunct faculty member in Women’s and Gender studies at UAB, who started working in the Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs office in 2014.
Sullivan is the co-founder and co-director of the Invisible Histories Project, a nonprofit that highlights LGBTQ history and life in the South. During her time as the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Coordinator, Sullivan helped encourage the acceptance and celebration of diverse identities and peoples at UAB by developing and leading sensitivity trainings.
“Queerness is inherently political,” said Sullivan, “but you don’t have to be a political statement. I think that claiming space with it is absolutely about representation.”
This is the difference between presence and representation. While LGBTQ
+ professors have always been on campus, faculty’s ability to be themselves has not always been accepted or supported on campus. Representation is a matter of people having access to the same opportunities and having an environment that is supportive and accepting of diverse individuals.
In Alabama, there are no protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not the same reality on UAB’s campus. At UAB, faculty are protected by the Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy, which explicitly protects people against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. These protections for LGBTQ
+ people have been in place at UAB since 2013.
Paulette Patterson Dilworth, vice president of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said, “Ultimately, our policies have to speak to the wellbeing for all students and all people, our faculty included, regardless of their backgrounds
, or their orientations , or their identities and things of that nature.”
UAB has done a lot to create a more accepting atmosphere on campus for LGBTQ+ people.
“I do feel like I can be my authentic self,” said Travis Morgan-Chavers. “I do feel, in this current role and especially with my immediate supervisor, I am treated as a whole person.”