The Princeton Review ranked UT as the second most LGBTQ-unfriendly college in the country. They based this ranking on “how strongly students disagree that their fellow students treat all persons equally, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” I want to point out that this rating is based solely on how students treat each other, not on their political, religious, or other beliefs. It is especially crucial that LGBTQ students feel supported right now, as many of them are struggling emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I think there are two main places that UT could improve.

The first is in the classroom. Other LGBTQ students that I have talked to over the last few years and I have expressed discomfort regarding how professors bring up LGBTQ issues in the classroom. It often is presented as a two-sided political issue. My rights and my existence shouldn’t be political.

We are real people, real students in your classrooms. I think that debates are a fantastic part of the educational experience. Still, debate topics shouldn’t include whether or not people deserve rights.

These highly inappropriate classroom discussions are deeply upsetting for the LGBTQ students present. They also give non-LGBTQ students the idea that discriminating against us is a valid political stance instead of a human rights issue.

Another place I think UT could improve is in the way LGBTQ students, especially those who are trans or gender-nonconforming, are treated in relation to traditionally gendered spaces. Spaces centered around the gender binary, such as male or female residence hall floors, dressing rooms and bathrooms create an uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe environment for LGBTQ students.

At the minimum, UT needs to make more gender-neutral bathrooms available for students to use and change in safely. They also need to make sure that these spaces are easily accessible for all students on all parts of campus. No one should have to be late to class because they can’t find a safe place nearby to use the bathroom.

UT also needs to be more conscious of how their treatment of trans and gender-nonconforming students in residence halls affects these students’ wellbeing and safety. Placing trans students on the floor associated with the gender they were assigned at birth outs them as trans, making them vulnerable to discrimination and hate.

I’ve had multiple trans friends tell me that they couldn’t find a roommate in residence halls, have had their name on the door vandalized or have had to buy out their room to feel safe. The University needs to address these issues by putting more focus on asking LGBTQ students what they need. More importantly, they need to take what they learn from listening to LGBTQ students and turn it into tangible actions that help us and make the campus a safer place for us.

Bailey Burroughs is a Junior majoring in Journalism. She can be reached atbburrou1@vols.utk.edu

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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