It’s the campus’ worst kept secret: gay people at UCSD don’t like the LGBT Resource Center.
It wasn’t always this way, or at least it didn’t seem like it had to be. As a freshman entering UC San Diego in 2016, closeted-up until that point and starved for affirmative relationships with other LGBTQ people, I desperately wanted to love the LGBT Resource Center. I still remember on Week 0, breaking away from my very heterosexual suitemates to knock on the door of the nearly deserted resource center. It seemed nice; they had a library full of LGBT books and more student organizations than I knew what to do with. For me, and for the many freshmen, who came to college looking for that world they had so often heard whispers of, The Gay Community, this seemed like the place to be.
The honeymoon period doesn’t last for most though. Although most people I know quickly realized they weren’t comfortable at the center, the reasons can be difficult to put into words. The first complaint is usually the aesthetic: “It just didn’t feel like a place for people like me,” a pretty common sentiment, which is frankly bizarre for an organization with the expressed purpose of giving LGBT students a place to feel safe. And certainly, safety does seem like it would be the first word to come to mind in the brightly colored, soft edges of Steven Universe posters and other cute, though frankly childish, memorabilia. However, the infantilizing environment can become off-putting to a lot of students with different tastes or for those who are looking for a slightly more adult environment to find resources and community. While some people can find their home within the LGBT Resource Center’s comforting decor, many more become quickly disillusioned as they realize that everything about the Center is built with a very specific type of person in mind.
If the inaccessibility was limited to aesthetics subtleties, that might be one thing. But the specificity of the LGBT Resource Center is a symptom of its bizarre identity politics and inter-community gatekeeping masked by a faux-positivity. For many who stay involved longer than a few months, the environment can quickly move from slightly off-putting to downright hostile. For others, that realization can come much sooner. When Earl Warren College junior Sierra La Pat was a freshman in the OASIS Summer Bridge Program at UCSD, she was, like I had been my first year, eager to find a community and naturally turned to the LGBT Resource Center. These hopes were shattered when acenter intern, who was introducing the center, made disparaging comments about lesbians, and later claimed that those who identified as gay “centered on privileged, white, gay men whose only concern was assimilating through marriage” while people who identified as queer were “more inclusive and intersectional.” The situation shook La Pat, who is a lesbian, and while she initially went to file a report to the Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, she stopped, thinking “Who was going to take this seriously? I’m accusing the LGBT Resource Center of being homophobic.”
Incidents like these aren’t one-off interactions, either. In late 2017, Thurgood Marshall College junior, Isa Elfers, started the UCSD Lesbian Collective in an attempt to build a community with other gay women. After initial attempts to affiliate the club with the LGBT Resource Center, the center issued criticism that they didn’t feel that a lesbian organization would be inclusive of men, and after some back-and-forth on this topic, requested that Elfers step down from her position. It should probably be noted that, while this sounds similar to situations where transphobes will try to disclude trans women from women’s spaces by calling them men, this was not the case here. The center’s concerns were fully about men feeling included in a lesbian-oriented club. This seemed like an especially bizarre double standard, given that the Lesbian Collective was far from the only identity-oriented club affiliated with the LGBT Resource Center; the center had long hosted clubs focused on bisexual and pansexual identity, asexuality, aromanticism, and notably, the gender-based Men’s Relationship Forum. Yet somehow, women-oriented groups were where they chose to draw the line.
Things continued to spiral from there. In 2018, I got a text from one of the last of my friends who was still an active visitor to the center, warning me and a group of other gay women that two interns in the center had been loudly discussing their distrust of lesbians. When a lesbian who frequented the center had asked them to stop, they were ignored, and the center director, Shaun Travers, who witnessed the interaction, told them to sort the matter out amongst themselves. It was an unfortunate incident followed by an even more disappointing reaction from the staff meant to fight homophobia on campus, but an incident that had surprised almost no one. I hadn’t quite realized until then that every experience of erasure and isolation I had felt in my time trying to find a community with LGBTRC, from strained conversations with club leaders, to protest when I requested that an intern not call me “a queer,” seemed to be leading up to this realization: this resource center, as badly as I had needed it, was not the inclusive space it pretended to be.
I really don’t believe that the LGBT Resource Center has malicious intent. Rather, I think they do such a good job of catering to the fraction of the community that is able to make a home there, that it’s easy to forget those that don’t. On the other hand, they’re not ignorant of these issues. Over the years, people I know have sent in critiques of the clique-ish, single-mindedness of the Center, and yet this problem remains unaddressed.
I genuinely do believe that the LGBT Resource Center wants what’s best for gay students on campus. However, their method of getting there is simply not effective when they create a hostile environment for so many of UCSD’s LGBTQ students. Maybe in a world where Sixth College has been named and we finally have that Target in Price Center, they will get there. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for a community elsewhere.
Photograph by UCSD Guardian Photographer Austin Song.