First LGBTQ+ faculty council studies campus climate, potential changes to UT practices

Lauren Grobe

UT’s first LGBTQ+ faculty council, created in May, is currently looking into ways to best support a part of the faculty population which historically has been underrepresented.

The Council for LGBTQ+ Access, Equity, and Inclusion was created to improve life on campus for LGBTQ+ faculty. Edmund Gordon, vice provost for diversity and chair of the council, said the council has now begun preliminary work into studying the climate for LGBTQ+ faculty. 

Gordon said the council will be gathering data on LGBTQ+ demographics on campus, evaluating the campus climate for LGBTQ+ faculty and determining what practices at the University need change. He said the council is also looking at what other institutions have done to address LGBTQ+ faculty because there is no collection of reports about being LGBTQ+ at UT-Austin.

“I think the need has always been there,” Gordon said. “We needed a council to represent (LGBTQ+ faculty) and to empower that council to make recommendations about how the University can be more inclusive.”

Gordon said coming out can still be dangerous for faculty, which makes it difficult to quantify the LGBTQ+ population on campus.

“Putting yourself out there in a homophobic world is minimally uncomfortable but maximally can be dangerous,” Gordon said.

Lisa Moore, an English and women’s and gender studies professor, said one obstacle in forming the council was finding openly LGBTQ+ faculty members in every college at the University. 

“It was very hard to find somebody from every college and school,” Moore said. “That instantly told us that there indeed was a problem of climate in many parts of the University.”

Moore said the council initially found that LGBTQ+ faculty often are not aware of each other’s presence. Theatre associate professor Paul Bonin-Rodriguez is leading the subcommittee on best practices and said he was surprised to work on a council of other LGBTQ+ faculty.

“There has been that sense of a bit of isolation,” Bonin-Rodriguez said. “It’s been kind of an extraordinary experience to sit in the room together.”

Outside of the gender studies department, Moore said being openly LGBTQ+ can be perceived as damaging or irrelevant to someone’s career.

“I always jokingly say I’m a professional lesbian,” Moore said. “But maybe you’re a professional biochemist and you have a queer or trans identity.”

The council has no definite timeline at this point, but is looking to complete a report by the end of the academic year. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, director of civic engagement at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the climate subcommittee, which she chairs, hopes to release a survey to determine demographics and climate next February.

“At the end of the day, the climate for faculty affects the larger student and staff and community climate,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

Moore said she hopes the council will allow faculty outside of the gender studies field to feel comfortable being out.

“I would like nobody to have to come to work here and fear that because of their identity that their job might be at risk,” Moore said.