Mary Sanchez

UMKC’s acceptance of gay and lesbian students is welcome

Updated: 2014-02-06T00:44:25Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

In the 1970s, the University of Missouri System appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep gay and lesbian organizations off campus.

The curators’ legal arguments failed, but the episode lasted seven years. Their reasoning was wrapped up in blatant homophobia — fear that recognizing gay and lesbian students would “tend to expand homosexual behavior” and “constitute an implied approval by the university of the abnormal, homosexual lifestyle as a normal way of life,” according to newspaper articles.

Wow. Thank God times change. And yes, that is a purposeful reference to deity. Too often God is co-opted as a rationale for such ignorance, even today.

Beginning Friday, more than 2,500 college students are expected to attend the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference. UMKC is the host.

Now, rather than shaming gay and lesbian students, the UMKC campus has won accolades for its support. Gender-neutral bathrooms are a part of new construction. For a decade, an office has been dedicated to such students’ needs. Faculty and staff training is widespread.

“Prolonged effort” is how UMKC alumnus Jim Giles termed the shift. Giles will appear on one of the many conference panels at the Kansas City Convention Center. He was a co-founder in the early ’90s of the Gay & Lesbian Student Alliance. Megan Cramer, who died in the explosion of JJ’s restaurant nearly a year ago, was also a founder.

The ’90s were an important period in Kansas City, albeit one that likely felt unwelcoming to a young person just beginning to come out. Protesters packed City Hall as the City Council debated whether codes would include sexual orientation as a protected class. Detractors were eventually trounced, and new protections were passed.

And yet bias still exists. It’s just tempered by more allies. A note to media on a conference press release stresses: “For the sake of privacy of attendees, please no crowd shots.” The words “no crowd shots” are underlined. A necessary precaution as no one should be “outed” by media coverage.

Another laudable element of UMKC is alumni donations to the Pride Scholarships for LGBTQIA students. Often these are full-tuition grants for a student who has been disowned by his or her family.

It’s another example of a campus displaying potentially life-altering acceptance.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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