By SUSAN JONES
The Pitt Queer Professionals affinity group has been around a little more than two years and it’s starting to make its presence felt.
In September, the group, which currently has about 100 people on its mailing list, received the Workplace Award from Vibrant Pittsburgh recognizing contributions to the creation of a more inclusive culture.
In October, PQP hosted a roundtable discussion about LGBTQIA+ diversity in the workplace, at which five members of the Pitt community spoke about their experiences. Issues raised included everything from always being the person asked to handle diversity initiatives in a department to more serious intolerance problems for transgender staff and faculty.
In the fall, PQP chair Mike Campbell, a staff member in the Center for Creativity, and interim vice chair Briar Somerville, a staff member in Film and Media Studies, addressed Pitt’s Staff Council about its efforts to get Chick-fil-A removed as a food vendor on the ground floor of the Cathedral of Learning “because it doesn’t reflect Pitt’s inclusion and diversity,” Somerville said at the Nov. 28 meeting.
Chick-fil-A has previously donated money to groups that oppose same-sex marriage. PQP is following the lead of the city of Pittsburgh, which recently removed Chick-fil-A as a Pittsburgh Marathon sponsor.
“The presence of the Chick-fil-A might put off prospective queer students. … it doesn’t represent what we hope Pitt represents,” Somerville said.
Campbell said they’ve had some discussions with Pitt’s administration and the discussion has focused on “the new master plan coming up for all of the renovation. Hopefully with that, there will be some sort of shift away from having Chik-fil-A, especially in a central location.”
This is just one of the issues PQP hopes to address.
One of the first things the group looked at, said Julie Beaulieu, a lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies program who chaired PQP until this past fall, was trying to overturn a ban on blood donations by gay men on Pitt’s campuses. She said PQP has been working with Pride Health, the UPMC and Pitt Schools of the Health Sciences LGBTQIA affinity group, on an education outreach statement.
“Firstly, of course, it’s completely misguided. And the Pride Health people have shown us that it doesn’t keep the population safer,” she said.
They’re also concerned that first-year students who may not have had the best sex education will see these exclusions at blood donation stations and think they make sense because of “fearmongering in the community,” Beaulieu said.
Campbell said the goal is not to eliminate blood drives, but that groups that are doing the drives would have to provide literature about why there is a blood ban for gay men and “why it’s discrimination and not necessarily medically relevant anymore.”
PQP also has engaged in fundraising for a few projects, including a research fund for students working on LGBTQIA+ issues and money for Sisters Pittsburgh, which works on housing and social justice issues for trans and non-binary people of color living in Pittsburgh.
“We plan to do more stuff like that,” Beaulieu said. “We actually have a list of voted-upon local organizations where, if we are just doing a social, we’ll have it double as a fundraiser. And then that shows that we exist to people in the broader community. And we see it as sort of a networking thing.”
In last year’s Campus Pride Index, a national list of LGBTQ-friendly universities, Pitt scored a 4.5 out of 5, “which we thought was incredible,” Beaulieu said. “But immediately lots of folks in upper administration (and in PQP) were like, ‘OK, how do we get that 5?’ ” She said securing specific lines of funding for LGBT research would help.
Still getting started
Campbell said when he came to Pitt as a graduate student, he was surprised there wasn’t an active LGBTQIA+ group for grad students or faculty and staff. As an undergrad, he attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where there were groups for undergrads, graduate students and faculty and staff.
Each of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools, which includes IUP, have LGBT groups on campus for faculty and staff and there is a consortium for the whole PASSHE system, Campbell said.
“I came from that to Pitt, where everything is just sort of starting,” said Campbell, who began working at the Center for Creativity in 2016.
Anthony Verardi, one of the participants in the October panel discussion, said he’s found the University administration very supportive of gender or sexuality representation issues since he started at Pitt in 2011 as an undergrad. He’s since held positions as a part-time faculty member in Arabic and is now a part-time staff member and full-time grad student in linguistics.
In addition to being PQP’s secretary, Verardi is trying to get a graduate student LGBT group off the ground.
Since coming to Pitt, Verardi said he’s seen the addition of gender-inclusive housing, largely because of student lobbying. He also believes that in the U.S. in general there’s a much larger awareness of gender issues. “It’s much easier, I think, to have your identity regarded as valid, … and it’s also much easier to find information about different gender and sexuality options.”
But on Pitt’s campus, Verardi said that “the work that ODI does often ends at the doors of the Cathedral or often ends at … the Dietrich school.”
One big issue is “codifying policies about how you respect gender and sexual identity,” Verardi said. “Right now, if you look at, for example, the availability of syllabi statements, I don’t think that the University has adopted a formal one, but the Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies program does offer suggested syllabi statements.
“It really makes a big difference when you see in classroom climate that we’re going to respect these kinds of identities,” said Varardi, who also is involved with trying to get a LGBTQIA+ grad student affinity group going.
Beaulieu said PQP wants faculty and staff and the general public to “know we’re here. … It takes quite a bit of work just for people to know ‘Hey, you have LGBTQA+ colleagues, and here’s a set of things that concern them in their community.’ And if you’re interested in being an ally, or part of the group in any capacity, then you can be.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Pitt Queer Professionals will meet the second Thursday of each month, February through May (Feb. 14, March 14, April 11 and May 9) from noon to 1 p.m. in 407 Cathedral of Learning.
There also will be a planning meeting at noon Jan. 18 in 402E Cathedral of Learning, to look at fundraisers and other events for the year. Anyone is welcome to give their input.
To be added to the PQP mailing list, contact Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org