LGBTQ* Alliance aims to support faculty, staff to ‘push the needle in a positive direction’

Mariya Vaughan, the co-chair of the LGBTQ* Faculty and Staff Alliance, works with Dr. Harlan Weaver to support and advocate for sexuality and gender identity-based issues in the K-State community. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

For years, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance at Kansas State University has provided a welcoming and supportive environment for LGBTQ students and other members of the community. Now, the formation of a newer organization gives LGBTQ graduate students, faculty and staff access to a group of their own.

“There has been interest in and support for a group like this for many years,” said Mariya Vaughan, co-chair of the LGBTQ* Faculty and Staff Alliance. “Many passionate faculty and staff members felt there was a need for an organization to bring our community together in support and solidarity.”

Vaughan, who is also the assistant director for K-State First, said the alliance has worked with the LGBT Resource Center in its formation, and in 2017, finalized their by-laws and mission to become an officially recognized group at K-State.

The alliance’s other co-chair Harlan Weaver, assistant professor of gender, women and sexuality studies, said the group is most focused on providing an inclusive, supportive space in a society where heterosexuality is considered the norm and LGBTQ identities are not always accepted.

“We are really focused on building and sustaining a community that faculty, staff and grad students can benefit from,” Weaver said. “The kind of space where, for example, when one of us has to contend with, say, the daily microaggressions and macroaggressions that go along with being LGBTQ in a campus and a town that is mostly hetero- and cis-normative, we have a place to turn where folks not only don’t need any explaining, but also offer support and, if needed, guidance.”

Josh Hilbrand, social chair of the alliance and program coordinator with the Global Campus, said his decision to join the alliance came not only from his own experiences, but from seeking a place in Manhattan where he could connect to other members of the LGBTQ community.

“I joined after the founding of the group, but I joined for a lot of the reasons it exists,” Hilbrand said. “I moved here a few years ago from Washington, D.C., where the gay scene is huge. It seemed like a good place to connect with the local community, find support and also serve the university in some small way.”

While the group has worked to provide support for members of the LGBTQ community through advocacy and inclusivity across campus, Vaughan said there are still incidences of harassment and discrimination. However, Vaughan believes these incidences could be prevented by more education on LGBTQ identities and issues.

“Advocacy is needed so that all are celebrated and accepted inside and outside of the classroom and in our workplaces,” Vaughan said. “We also need to ensure that our community has a voice at all levels of the university, so our experiences are heard and we have a say within the institution.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, FBI data shows a 5 percent increase in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes from 2015 to 2016, including a 2 percent increase in crimes based on sexual orientation bias and a 9 percent increase in crimes based on gender identity bias.

Weaver said they believe their group is critical to ensuring that members of the LGBTQ community have the resources necessary to continue supporting each other in environments that may be hostile or otherwise homophobic.

“As a group, we also labor to make sure that faculty and staff have their own support so that they in turn can be supportive,” Weaver said. “Given the rise in LGBTQ related hate crimes in the past several years, both broadly and in terms of college populations, maintaining faculty and staff’s ability to continue the important work of caring for students and each other is critical. A group like ours is needed now more than ever.”

In the end, Hilbrand hopes to build a caring campus community that does not merely tolerate LGBTQ people, but understands and celebrates others of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.

“In practice, I suppose our goal is to push the needle in a positive direction, even if it’s small,” Hilbrand said. “Creating spaces for us to be ourselves is important. Finding areas where we can nudge opinions or promote understanding is essential. … We want to build a community and a culture where we are not just tolerated or accepted, but celebrated for being who and what we are.”