With three full-time staff members, more than 20 affiliated organizations and an extensive faculty and staff affiliate program, Penn’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center is one of the largest in America.
Penn has a “big” and “multifaceted” gay community, LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg said. “That is one reason why [Penn] is perceived as a friendly place.”
In fact, Penn is the number one gay-friendly school in America, according to Newsweek magazine — which used an aggregate of The Advocate’s and InsideCollege.com’s ratings.
The 6,000-square-foot LGBT Center was funded by a $2 million gift from Penn 1985 alumni David Goodhand, a College graduate, and Vincent Griski, a Wharton graduate. The building functions not only as a site for LGBT Center activities, but also as a meeting place for student and community groups. For instance, the Undergraduate Assembly and the Philadelphia chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays hold meetings at the LGBT center.
Of more than 5,000 American universities and colleges, only 150 have professionally staffed centers, Schoenberg said. Penn’s is in league with those of Princeton University and New York University.
Schoenberg estimates that more than 4,000 students visit the LGBT Center every academic year, many of whom are heterosexual.
“When you walk in the door no one asks, ‘How do you identify?’” he said. “No one says anything except, ‘You are welcome here.’”
Penn’s LGBT community is “pervasive” and has “many niches,” Schoenberg added.
The LGBT Center is working with Penn Admissions to help identify LGBT applicants and strong allies for the first time this year. Although this system does not give such applicants a “leg up,” Schoenberg said, it does provide students who have been accepted from this pool with information about Penn’s LGBT life.
LGBT organizations can be found in every facet of Penn life: religious groups, racial groups and undergraduate and graduate schools.
Of Penn’s 12 schools, nine have LGBT groups, including Wharton’s Out for Business and the Law School’s Lambda Law. Each of the nine groups is a part of the Lambda Alliance, a coalition group dedicated to advancing the interests of gender and sexual minorities at Penn.
Two religious gay groups also exist: J-Bagel and the Queer Christian Fellowship.
J-Bagel, a Jewish group run through Hillel, is the only Jewish LGBT organization in Philadelphia and attracts students from other Universities. It aims to “serve the social support and needs of LGBT and ally Jews, as well as helps to promote the visibility of LGBT members within the Jewish community,” Jason Goodman, College senior, vice chairman for Political Affairs of the Lambda Alliance and chairman of J-Bagel said.
J-Bagel grew organically from Shabbat dinners and now serves as a “safe base” for Jews from all backgrounds, according to Goodman.
“There is no better place to be LGBT and Jewish than Penn,” he said.
J-Bagel also hosts events with the Queer Christian Fellowship, an organization that meets over dinner and discusses the intersection of religion and sexual orientation.
“I would encourage other religious communities at Penn to address and engage LGBT issues,” Goodman added.
Other Penn communities also have ways to help LGBT students.
Most fraternities and sororities have members who are out and provide education on acceptance and coming out, Schoenberg said. He identified Penn Athletics as an institution that requires “more training in terms of tolerance.
To achieve this goal, the Lambda Alliance is collaborating with Penn Athletics to develop a diversity training program for team captains.
Areas of Improvement
Penn’s policies with respect to its employees are “great,” according to Katherine Sender, an associate professor in the Annenberg School for Communication who researches gay marketing and gay representation on television. In 1979, Penn added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy for hiring, housing and employment — a policy that was more progressive than that of the City of Philadelphia at the time. In 1994, Penn became the first major employer in Philadelphia to offer domestic partner benefits to employees. In 2003, Penn expanded the nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity.
Yet discrimination still exists. Penn is “not so great” with LGBT issues in two other areas: LGBT-related curriculum and openly gay faculty, Sender said.
Schoenberg agreed with Sender. “Penn still needs more out faculty, more LGBT-related classes, more general interest,” he said.
Sender says this lack is a circular problem; it is difficult to recruit “major theorists in LGBT and queer studies because Penn doesn’t have the critical mass of openly gay faculty.”
As a result, faculty members feel like they don’t know how to teach LGBT studies and there isn’t much LGBT-related curriculum, Sender said.
Another problem area is a lack of resources for transgender individuals. Although Penn Student Health Service now covers the cost of gender reassignment for transgender students, it does not provide coverage for transgender staff or faculty.
Despite these weaknesses, Penn succeeds in providing an overall safe and friendly environment for LGBT students. “No LGBT hate crimes have been reported to us in the last few years,” Division of Public Safety spokeswoman Stef Cella said. “Other than the occasional name-calling, or a student writing something on another student’s whiteboard in the dorms or just general insensitivity, there were no crimes.”
Even if complete acceptance has not yet been achieved, the presence of so many supportive resources and helpful policies helps to foster a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT students.
It is for these reasons and more that Penn was named the most gay-friendly school in America, a rank that it holds with pride.Comments powered by Disqus
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