The LGBT Resource Center Needs to Change

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.

8 thoughts on “The LGBT Resource Center Needs to Change

  1. “It’s the campus’ worst kept secret: gay people at UCSD hate the LGBT Resource Center.”
    I had to laugh reading this, that’s a sentiment I’ve literally never heard before. Personally I appreciate the LGBT resource center and their efforts. No, they’re not perfect, but they do a lot of good for a lot of people. The historical reputation of the Lesbian Collective is definitely terf-y; whatever the specifics, I applaud the LGBT resource center for refusing to support that. As a lesbian, I hope that in the future there can be a lesbian-focused org on campus that I would feel comfortable in. If anything, this article has just confirmed to me that the Lesbian Collective is not it.

    1. Hi, KY. Honestly, I’m not sure where this idea of the Lesbian Collective being transphobic is coming from. I was aware of several members who were nonbinary and comfortable with the group, and everyone I knew in the group was explicitly inclusive of trans women. If this group had displayed terf-y attitudes at any point, then I don’t see why the LGBTRC wouldn’t express concern to them about that, rather than saying they wanted men to feel included. This article also is not about the Lesbian Collective, outside of one incident about a member who graduated last year, so I genuinely do not know what in this article is giving you such strong feelings about them. I completely respect your opinion about the LGBTRC, although it has not been my experience. If they were a school club or a small organization, I wouldn’t think this article is necessary at all. However, the reality is that they are a school department and the main way UCSD provides support to LGBT students, so I think responding to where they have been unable to give students that support is critical. As I stated in my article, I do think they’ve done a good job providing a space for their core group and I hope they learn to continue to expand beyond that, but I also think there is a lot being extrapolated here that isn’t supported by what the article is describing.

  2. It is irresponsible to publish a piece attacking a small/vulnerable organization using outdated information. If you choose to address a conflict between the Lesbian Collective and the LGBT RC, the responsible thing to do as a journalist would be to also address the reputation of the Lesbian Collective at the time – a close-minded, transphobic, and frankly TERF-y organization. This lack of inclusivity was an open secret and is what stopped me, personally, from joining the Lesbian Collective.

    However, the Lesbian Collective has since gotten a better and more open reputation, due to changes and growth within the organization. The LBGT RC has likewise made changes within the last 3 years; that you choose to publish this piece now instead of when these events were actually happening shows an intentional desire to misrepresent and discredit a organization whose presence many do enjoy and benefit from.

    1. Hey, N. I founded the Lesbian Collective and have been repeatedly informed that we were a TERF/transphobic organization. I’m not sure why this is ⁠— the organization has had trans and nonbinary members since I started it, both transfeminine and transmasculine, over the years. We never promoted or adhered to any form of transphobic ideology and never excluded trans people from joining, so long as they were lesbian-identified and comfortable being in a lesbian space, and I’m sure this hasn’t changed since my graduation. If this reputation was an open secret, I’ve never been told why, though I’m sorry that’s how you feel. It is certainly not how I ran the group nor how I would like it to be run.

    1. Hi! Can I ask what you’re referring to? My intention is absolutely not to in any way validate any transphobic ideologies (I think I tried to make it fairly clear that exclusion of trans women from lesbian spaces is not something I’ll stand for), and if I am, I would really appreciate being made aware

  3. The fact that a lot of these experiences are coming from 2016, 2017, and 2018 doesn’t say a lot for what has been happening in recent times. A lot of these specific changes have been in talks for the past year, and you would need to walk into the center itself and have a conversation to realize that. While you are valid to have your opinion, please do more thorough current research before writing think pieces that are outdated and do more harm than actual good.

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