UT, listen to LGBTQ+ survivors

Editor’s note: This article first appeared as part of the June 28 flipbook.

Content Warning: This editorial contains discussion of homophobia, transphobia, sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence.

LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. They are civil rights. They are undeniable and unquestionable. 

However, in the last year alone, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in nationwide legislative efforts to undermine and restrict the rights of the queer community. From Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive attacking gender-affirming care for transgender children to the Texas Republican party’s new platform calling homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and opposing “all efforts to validate transgender identity,” Texas continues to be a battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. 

In the face of such renewed prejudice, queer students deserve nothing short of absolute support from their university. UT may not determine state policies, but it does have the power to foster an inclusive environment on its campus. Although the University has taken steps in the right direction by introducing a gender-inclusive housing option and allowing students to have their chosen name on their diploma, UT must do more. We call on the University to include queer survivors — particularly queer survivors of color — in the conversation around sexual misconduct reform. 

Implementing the 2020 Husch Blackwell recommendations is a start to addressing sexual misconduct at UT, but after years of student protests and a continuous lack of communication from administration, it’s insufficient. While progress is often slow, it must be made, and administration has spent enough time comfortably celebrating the few strides they’ve taken. 

Amanda Garcia, Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coalition chair and Senate of College Councils policy director, discussed the need for more inclusive reform policies. 

“I think a lot of interpersonal violence is very gendered, and a lot of times it is an issue with men and women, and men abusing their patriarchal power … (and that is) very central to the topic of interpersonal violence prevention. But, we have to keep in mind that … this is not the default experience for a lot of people, and it’s not the default experience at all,” Garcia, a sociology junior, said. “I think if we limit ourselves to this binary conversation of how interpersonal violence is perpetuated, then we lose a lot of intention, and we lose a lot of good conversations and a lot of good advocacy.” 

People in the LGBTQ+ community are four times more likely than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to be victimized by a violent crime — including sexual and interpersonal violence. In particular, bisexual and transgender people face the greatest risk. Research has shown that 61% of bisexual women and 37% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Nearly half of transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Across the board, studies have found that those in the LGBTQ+ community face a disproportionately greater risk of experiencing interpersonal or sexual violence. 

Leland Murphy, UT Student Government President and government senior, described his experiences as a queer survivor. 

“It’s just sometimes harder to talk about (my experiences), and I think it’s because it’s not really like a talked-about thing. You know, even just the (resources) for survivors aren’t the most holistic, but especially from that queer intersectional identity,” said Murphy. “How I felt was very isolated and ashamed. At first, I didn’t even realize what happened to me kind of was sexual assault. And then I was kind of like, ‘Wait, that wasn’t okay.’ And then after that, I felt a lot of shame. … That’s why I think queer students who go through (sexual violence), or really any form of interpersonal violence, especially need that support to really uplift and make them feel comfortable in themselves.” 

LGBTQ+ survivors may face unique challenges, often a result of discrimination. A National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs survey found that 85% of survivor advocates have worked with a queer survivor who was denied resources because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Homophobia and transphobia are deeply rooted in our society, and we must actively combat such hateful prejudices — which involves seeking inclusive reform. 

Paula Botello, a member of the Gender and Sexuality Center Student Leadership Committee and art history sophomore, explained some of these challenges. 

“There could be that risk of being outed and that risk of being further stigmatized so that you feel as if your voice does not matter. And there’s also the issues of police violence, because police do not historically have a good (history) working with queer communities,” said Botello. “In addition, … let’s say (that you’re not only) an LGBTQ+ member, but you’re also a person of color. Well, then you (face) double stigmatization.” 

Queer survivors might fear having their sexual orientation or gender identity revealed without their permission, which can add to an already traumatic experience. While the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement, the distrust of police prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community further contributes to the underreporting of sexual violence against queer individuals.  In addition, when we consider that 42% of queer adults identify as people of color, there’s another level of intersectionality.

“There’s more than just white queer people out there. We have to include race into the conversation because it’s something that matters as well,” said Liz Gillam, Queer and Trans Student Alliance co-director appointee and sociology and geography junior. 

It is vital that not only queer survivors, but also queer survivors of color, are actively involved in conversations around sexual misconduct reform. 

“I absolutely think it’s important to include the voices of LGBTQIA+ survivors, and QTBIPOC survivors, because those stories are not often told, and many resources are primarily aimed at straight cis white women, which leaves out a huge amount of folks who are experiencing violence,” said Liz Elsen, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, in an email. 

While the Title IX Office serves as a resource for survivors, they cannot and should not be the driving force behind all sexual misconduct reform. 

“The Title IX Office is aware that members of the LGBTQIA+ community statistically have a higher prevalence of experiencing sexual violence and we make sure to provide this individualized support to help survivors,” said Robert Leary, deputy Title IX coordinator for support and resources, in an email. “The Title IX office is committed to serving all university affiliates, inclusive of all gender identities.” 

We acknowledge and appreciate the work the Title IX Office has put in to create a more supportive environment for survivors at UT, but their resources are limited by University funding and policies, not to mention a flawed legal system. While every survivor’s experiences are unique and individualized, support will always be crucial. Inclusive sexual misconduct reform does not begin and end in the Title IX Office. 

The Gender and Sexuality Center, an important voice for LGBTQ+ students on campus, should be involved in any discussions of sexual misconduct reform. Moreover, from the series of protests leading to the development and adoption of the Husch Blackwell recommendations to the recent release of the nearly 100-page State of LGBTQIA+ Affairs report, queer students and survivors have repeatedly shown that they will advocate for themselves — and it’s long due for administration to listen. 

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Lucero Ponce, Alyssa Ramos and editor-in-chief Megan Tran.