March 24, 2014

Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of LGBTQPA Provides Forum for Sexual Identity and Gender Diversity

By Monica M. Walk

DIVERSITY AT UIC is inherent, yet sensitivity to the campus’s varied population benefits from focused institutional attention. The Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer People and Allies (CCSLGBTQPA) works with the Chancellor and Provost to address issues and concerns of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community at UIC.

THE COMMITTEE revised its name last year to expand its reach and recognize the transgendered and queer communities, as well as allies.

“IT IS important that the Chancellor’s Committee is inclusive in as many ways as we can be,” said committee co-chair Patricia O’Brien, associate professor of Social Work. “We want people to feel welcome. Words are important. We value everyone across the rainbow. And we recognize that allies are crucial to change in the world: We recognize that these people are straight, but not narrow.”

THE COMMITTEE operates with a duo of balanced leadership comprised of a faculty and a staff member. Their terms overlap, so that one leader always has experience with the group. (O’Brien, who has led the committee in the past, is completing a one-year appointment to fill a gap.)

CO-CHAIR PHILIP Vasquez, associate director of Student Development Services, was recruited to join the committee by a past chair and then volunteered to be a co-chair through spring of 2014. Vasquez joined because he wanted to integrate his professional work with diversity education—including co-directing the First Year Dialogue Seminar, a diversity seminar for freshmen—with diversity work around the campus.

“THE COMMITTEE advocates on institutional issues for faculty, employees, and students,” Vasquez said. “I am interested in student issues, especially transgender issues.  My work with that population exposes a lot of marginalization.  My priority is to advocate for these students, and this committee cuts across units and offices at UIC.”

THE COMMITTEE also collaborates on many projects and issues with the Gender and Sexuality Center.

AMONG FUTURE goals, Vasquez cites increasing outreach to faculty regarding LGTBQ students on campus. “Anecdotally, we hear from students on campus that they struggle with professors who are hetero-normative or traditional-gender oriented and may ask questions that aren’t inclusive,” Vasquez said. 

O’BRIEN ALSO stressed the importance of nurturing campus diversity and examining barriers. “The administration talks about our amazing diversity, but that doesn’t mean the climate and environment are absolutely friendly,” she said. “I can tell you from surveys that everything is not all right—we need consistent attention on comments and actions that keep people from being fully included.”

AMONG THOSE barriers is a registration system that only allows for legal first names—not preferred first names—to be listed. Legal first names often are gender-specific, and professors calling roll inadvertently make students disclose a gender they may not identify with, O’Brien explained. “In every single class, that student has to disclose they are not the assumed gender that the name implies,” O’Brien said. “This is huge for that student and how they are engaged in that class. They have to automatically tell their story, whether they want to or not.”

THE UIC campus is a leader within the University of Illinois, Vasquez noted, as the only campus that currently includes transgendered health issues in campus health insurance. The Board of Trustees voted last year to allow people to use their medical plan to move toward surgery related to change in gender.

AN ISSUE currently under exploration by CCSLGBTQPA is the inclusive climate at the University of Illinois Hospital. “We have questions about the UI Hospital not being on the Health Equality Index, which is sponsored by a national organization, the Human Rights Campaign,” O’Brien said, noting the index “indicates the degree to which a hospital is LGBT-affirming and inclusive. This includes the training that medical personnel get with language around patients and partners. This matters in the context of dealing with serious issues. We are developing a task force to move forward with training for the hospital to be more cognizant and affirming.”

THE UIC campus does hold a five-star rating from the Campus Pride Climate Index and is listed among the top 25 LGBT friendly school in the nation. “This is fantastic,” O’Brien said. “The Alliance for Safe Schools says that because we have structures in place—like the CCSLGBTQPA, partner benefits, and the Gender and Sexuality Center—we have gone a ways to establish a safe context. This is very important.”

THE CCSLGBTQPA awards annual scholarships to a UIC graduate and undergraduate student demonstrating excellence and involvement in the LGBTQ community.

THE COMMITTEE’S focus on students culminates in the annual Lavender Graduation, a celebration for LGBTQPA students and their family and friends, as well as faculty and staff. The event is sponsored by the gender and Sexuality Center, with funding and personal support from the CCSLGBTQPA. Now in its eighth year, the event continues to grow in size and importance, both Vasquez and O’Brien report. This year’s event is slated for Friday, May 2, 4-6:30 p.m. in the UIC Forum. (

“I WAS at the first one,” O’Brien recalled. “There were three graduates. Last year, there were about 50 graduates and we have outgrown the space we used to use. This year we will be at the Forum. It is a great celebration, a connecting event—very affirming.”

“THE EVENT validates the students’ hard work and the University’s support of them,” Vasquez said. “Twenty-five years ago, this event didn’t exist. It makes the students feel good that University leaders support them. We get great feedback on it.”

THE CCSLGBTQPA also supports the Lavender Research Forum. The Monday, April 14, event in Room 1-470 of the UIC Daley Library will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public (RSVP to for lunch reservations). UIC alum Kim Hunt, executive director of Affinity Community Services, a social justice organization on the South Side specializing in work on behalf of Black LGBTQ adults and youth, will be the keynote speaker.

“I AM very excited about this keynote,” O’Brien said. “She is one of ours—earning a master’s in urban planning and policy in 1987—and has amazing experience in the community. She can talk about the linkage of community and university research.”

MEMBERS OF the UIC community are invited to become involved in the CCSLGBTQPA. While the 14 positions on the official roster are by appointment by the Chancellor, meetings are public and all are invited to attend.

“ANYONE CAN attend and get involved,” Vasquez said. “We have working teams, and the UIC public can get involved. We like volunteers and new people to come. I especially want to encourage younger and newer staff to come get involved. This isn’t a group just for ‘higher ups’…I’d love to see more Academic Professionals show up.”

THE COMMITTEE’S next monthly meeting is Thursday, April 10, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Room 2750 of University Hall.

FOR MORE information, visit

Upcoming CCSLGBTQPA dates:
Thursday, April 10—Monthly committee meeting, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Room 2750, University Hall.
Monday, April 14 –Lavender Research Forum,  Room 1-470, UIC Daley Library, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free and open to the public (RSVP to for lunch reservations).
Friday, May 2—Lavender Graduation, 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the UIC Forum.


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