The Out Student Leader’s Agenda

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by Greg Varnum and Chad Grandy

Opponents of LGBTQ civil rights have always said that LGBTQ people have an agenda. And we do: it’s an agenda of equality for everyone – regardless of gender/identity expression or sexual orientation. But, as an LGBTQ student on campus, what is your agenda as an LGBTQ leader? A leader, regardless of who he or she is, must have a vision and a plan to make that vision a reality. So an agenda is a necessary tool for any leader. Remember that there is no one agenda that best applies to everyone; it’s up to you to write your agenda as a leader on campus. This resource will help you get started.

Writing Your Agenda

Look At Yourself – Before you can truly excel at helping others, you have to be sure that you’re able to help yourself. Consider looking at what type of leadership style works best for you. Ask yourself if you are having fun, and if not, why? You should be enjoying yourself and getting the most out of your leadership experience.

Be Passionate – Think about what matters most to you, and what issues and ideas really drive you. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, not only will you produce greater results yourself, but your passion will be contagious and inspire others.

Educate Yourself – What does your local community really need? Talk to people and find out what’s been done already, whether it was successful, and what should be done next. Take the time to understand the climate, politically and socially, both in the local community and at your college. Be sure you understand all sides of an issue, including the historical side. You’ll be able to plan better if you understand better. No one is ever criticized for knowing too much about something they’re advocating for.

Be Realistic – Some things may not be timely, the most effective next step, or something you can effectively work on given the time you have to give. Remember that as a student, you’ll only be on campus for four or five (or in some cases ten) years. That shouldn’t stop you from doing something, but it should impact how you plan. Figure out how you can involve other students who will continue the work after you leave. Also be on the lookout for faculty and staff who are passionate about these issues and make sure to involve them for a greater impact.

Consider All Of The Issues – Passion is important, but so is acknowledging the greater good. True equality means equal rights for everyone, not just you and those like you. You’ll sound hypocritical if you ignore the oppression of other people and fail to help them in their time of need. Plus, it will only help you, if others succeed, as they’ll be more apt to do the same for your cause.

Suggested Agenda Items

Establish Strategic Alliances And Communication With Administration – If you have an open dialogue with your college’s administration and allies in strategic places, it helps a great deal with getting the right information, with specific objectives, to the right people. Taking the time to build these relationships and strengthening them is well worth it. Make sure they are receiving thorough and accurate information from everyone. Ignoring an obvious problem or presenting misleading or inaccurate information only hurts your credibility and hinders progress. It’s better to be patient – not to be confused with complacent – and honest rather than forceful and deceiving.

Ensure Policies Offer Protections Against Discrimination – Without inclusive LGBT policies in place, statements of support from the college are just talk. The administration and staff may have good intentions, but it will be hard for them to enforce their statements without policies to back them up. Review your college’s current policies. Does housing have accommodations for transgender students. Would students with same-sex partners get the same treatment as legally married students if their partner’s health required them to miss an exam.

Policies help create a climate where the message is clear – discrimination is never OK. Be sure that they include the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.” Also consider what other populations are excluded. Working strategically with other campus and local community groups can help. Utilize the communication with your administration and strategic allies to determine who has the final say on writing these policies, and strategize how to get them updated.
Develop Effective Training Opportunities For Faculty/Staff/Students – Work with your administration to enforce mandatory diversity training – such as an Ally or Safe Space/Zone program for faculty and staff (including student staff) – that includes information on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Consider what areas might need specific training. Is the housing staff trained on how to handle homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia? Are admissions counselors able to answer potential LGBTQ students’ questions? Does the police force know how to handle same-sex domestic abuse? Are health officials trained on lesbian or transgender health issues? Consider making similar trainings available for students; after all, they make up the largest population at your college and can help to convince others that the training is necessary.

Create Financial Aid Resources For LGBTQ Students – LGBTQ students are more likely to be in need of financial assistance. Some may no longer have contact with their parents or guardians and as a result face challenges applying for financial aid. Others may have faced discrimination in the workplace, and with no legal retribution available to them, now face a financial shortfall. Consider what can be done at your college to offer scholarships or other financial assistance specifically to LGBTQ students in need.

Extend Domestic Partner Benefits – Without these benefits, many LGBTQ people are unable to provide basic health care for their families. That makes them less interested in working for your college and sends hem looking elsewhere. Not only does this impede the college’s ability to recruit the best faculty and staff possible, it also decreases the number of positive LGBTQ role models and mentors on campus to work with LGBTQ students. Consider looking at whether these benefits extend to students as well. Does a students’ opposite sex partner get treated the same way as a same-gender student’s partner on campus? If a same-gender couple receives a discount to a college facility or event, then so should an opposite-sex couple.

Regardless of what you decide to undertake as your personal agenda, one thing is for sure: you’re choosing to get involved during one of the most revolutionary times of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Your generation will no doubt extend true equality to LGBTQ people. Be proud of your out student leader agenda and share your vision to inspire others. Most certainly know that you will make an impact in someone’s life, some way, somehow. By so doing, you bring all of us one step closer to true equality. Good luck, and remember, have fun!

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