Out of the Shadows: One Queer Researcher’s Journey

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

In his 1932 book, titled The Sociology of Teaching, Waller offered the following:

“Homosexuality is a deviant, contagious, and dangerous disease that could and should be avoided in the schools by firing teachers who demonstrated homosexual traits including, carriage, mannerisms, voice, speech, etc.” (Waller, as cited in Tierney & Dilley, 1998, p. 51).

The climate of fear offered by Warren was also evident in higher education where the expulsion of students believed to be gay was a commonly adopted practice among colleges and signaled a belief that homosexuality was caused by the influence of those determined to spread its ills. Colleges and universities during this era thus viewed same-sex attraction and, more pointedly, the behaviors accompanying it, as a reflection on the institution as a whole and sought to distance themselves from it (for a comprehensive history see Marine, 2011). Pre-1970’s research on and about queer and trans spectrum people further pathologized their lives (Beeymn & Rankin, 2011; Marine, 2011). Post-1970’s research offered visibility to queer and trans spectrum people on college campuses leading researchers to explore ways to understand their identities and their experiences (Marine, 2011; Renn, 2010; Tierney & Dilley, 1998).

It was within this environment that I found myself, an “out” lesbian, working in higher education in the late 1970’s. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would be intimately involved in a social justice movement that eventually led me to a research agenda focusing on the experiences of queer and trans spectrum faculty, staff, and students on college campuses. Renn (2010) and Marine (2011) offer more comprehensive reviews of the evolution of research in higher education focusing on gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender faculty, staff, and students. I encourage readers interested in this history to read their thorough and thought provoking reviews. I chose to focus this essay on the study of the climate in higher education for queer spectrum and trans spectrum people both as a researcher and a participant.

According to Hill and Grace (2009), the United States academic environment promulgates a dominant heteronormative culture. With its entrenched tendency to replace heteronormativity, fighting back has proven an arduous task requiring the courage and persistence of activist researchers. As one of many advocates and activists in the 1990’s at Penn State fighting for visibility and inclusion, we had worked quietly and consistently to urge the institution to include sexual orientation in its stated nondiscrimination policy. A Task Force was charged by then President Joab Thomas to examine the need for adding sexual orientation in the policy and my task, with Lee Upcraft, Bill Tierney, and Estela Bensimon as mentors, was to provide a study that examined the climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual faculty, staff, and students at Penn State. The “perfect storm” erupted when at the same time. Then women’s basketball coach Renee Portland publicly offered that one of her three “training rules” include “no lesbians.” As I was then serving as the women’s softball coach, my vocal disapproval of Coach Portland’s remarks led to my dismissal (see the documentary Training Rules). The Task Force project became my dissertation and the impetus for my life-long research.

Campus Climate for Queer Spectrum and Trans Spectrum People – A Summary

Early literature (1980-1999) indicated a lack of tolerance toward queer and trans spectrum members of the academic community. (For a detailed review of this literature please refer to Rankin, et al. 2010). The research documents that queer and trans spectrum people on campus were subjected to physical and psychological harassment, discrimination, and violence, all of which obstructed achievement of personal, educational, and professional goals. Based on my dissertation work and continued interest in these issues on campus, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) provided me with a small grant to conduct the first national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) campus climate survey in 2003. The results paralleled those of the earlier studies indicating that 33% of LGBT students experienced some form of harassment, with 11% of respondents indicating they had experienced physical violence enacted on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual identity. The overall climate was described by respondents as “homophobic” and many people indicated that they hid their sexual identity or gender identity to avoid discrimination and harassment. Further, only 5% of participants felt that their colleges addressed issues related to sexual and gender identity.

The queer and trans spectrum research since 2003 has exploded. In a search of articles in education journals with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and or transgender content since 2003, over 6,000 references were cited, many of them focusing on the experiences and perceptions of sexual and gender minorities intersecting with other identities (e.g., race, class, spirituality). However, in 2003 only 99 campuses had offices or centers that focused on the issues and concerns of queer and trans spectrum people. In 2010, that number had risen to 160. With the rise in queer and trans spectrum research and concurrent increase in student services, it was time for a follow-up climate assessment.

My Campus Climate Research Journey

In 2010, with support from Campus Pride, I worked with an amazing team of colleagues that resulted in the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People report (Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, & Frazer, 2010) Based on the research that underscores the importance of the perception of non-discriminatory environments in achieving positive educational outcomes for students (Aguirre & Messineo, 1997; Flowers & Pascarella, 1999; Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Terenzini, & Nora, 2001) and to successful personal and professional development of employees (Settles, Cortina, Malley, & Stewart, 2006), the report documents the experiences of nearly 6,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators who identify as queer or trans spectrum at colleges and universities across the United States. The results suggested that queer and trans spectrum students, faculty, and staff experience a climate in higher education that often interferes with their ability to successfully work or learn on campus. One quarter (23%) of queer spectrum staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with a person’s ability to work or learn). Almost all participants identified their sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of trans spectrum students, faculty, and staff reported experiencing harassment (39%), with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. Due to this challenging climate, more than half of all faculty, students, and staff hid their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation. The challenging climate had a direct influence on persistence given that one-third of queer-spectrum (33%) and trans-spectrum (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution. These numbers were significantly higher for queer and trans people of color.

It seems appropriate that my most recent climate assessment was to study the influence of climate on the academic and athletic success of student-athletes. How ironic that the governing body that was silent when I was dismissed for being too vocal about my own “queerness” and the heterosexist environment in sport in 1996 provided a grant, inclusive of questions on sexual identity and gender identity, to study student-athlete experiences. The larger report included an examination of multiple identities and offered significant differences in academic and athletic success for student-athletes based on racial identity, gender identity, sexual identity, divisional status, disability status, and sport (see Rankin et al., 2011). Campus Pride provided a grant to report on the responses of the 401 queer spectrum student-athletes and the 7 trans spectrum student athletes. When examining the academic success of heterosexual student-athletes and queer spectrum student-athletes there were no differences in academic or athletic success. However, when climate is introduced, queer spectrum student-athletes have significantly lower levels of academic success and athletic success than their heterosexual counterparts (Rankin & Merson, 2012).

The intersections of societal climate, campus climate, and the climate in intercollegiate athletics are inextricably tied to my own personal journey. In her analysis of the literature, Renn (2010) called for renewed attention to the selection of thoughtful methods for answering questions about queer spectrum and trans spectrum identities and challenges in substantive ways including the continuation of large-scale studies of campus climate. I am thrilled that the body of knowledge on queer spectrum and trans spectrum is growing both in depth and breadth. I am equally excited that the research on queer and trans spectrum people in academe is continuing and inclusive of the influence of campus climate. For example, Garvey’s 2014 national study on the experiences of queer spectrum and trans spectrum alumnae and Woodford’s 2013 national project examining queer and trans spectrum student success. I am also buoyed by the recent acceptance of queer spectrum and trans spectrum researchers in the higher education profession as evidenced in the Queer Special Interest Group in the American Educational Research Association and the new Queer Scholarship group at the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Our work is no longer in the shadows. Many thanks to those who lit the way. Time to pass the torch.

Discussion Questions

  1. Has your campus conducted a climate assessment inclusive of sexual identity and gender identity questions? If the response is “no”, what are the obstacles to conducting an assessment inclusive of these questions?  If the response is “yes”, what actions were realized (metrically measurable outcome) based on the results of the assessment?
  2. Given the importance of documenting our history, is there an historical account of the queer spectrum and trans spectrum movements on your campus?  If not, what are the challenges to developing an historical time-line of queer and trans spectrum milestone events on your campus?
  3. What actions have you personally taken to ensure that your campus provides a nurturing environment for queer spectrum and trans spectrum students?


Aguirre, A., & Messineo, M. (1997). Racially motivated incidents in higher education: What do they say about the campus climate for minority students? Equity & Excellence in Education, 30(2), 26-30.

Beemyn, G., & Rankin, S. (2011). Lives of Transgender People. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Flowers, L., & Pascarella, E. (1999). Cognitive effects of college racial composition on African American students after 3 years of college. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 669-677.

Grace, A. P., & Hill, R. J. (2004). Positioning queer in adult education: Intervening in politics and praxis in North America. Studies in the Education of Adults, 36(2), 167-189.

Marine, S. B. (2011). Stonewall’s legacy: Bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender student in higher education. ASHE Higher Education Report, 37(4).

Rankin, S. (2003). Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered People: A National Perspective. New York, NY: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Rankin, S., Blumenfeld, W. J., Weber, G. N., & Frazer, S. (2010). State of higher education for LGBT people. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

Rankin, S., & Merson, D. (2012). LGBTQ College Athlete National Report. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

Rankin, S., Merson, D., Sorgen, C., McHale, I., Loya, K., & Oseguera, L. (2011). Student-Athlete Climate Study (SACS) Final Report. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University.

Renn, K. A. (2010). LGBT and queer research in higher education: The state and status of the field. Educational Researcher, 39(2), 10.

Settles, I. H., Cortina, L. M., Malley, J., & Stewart, A. J. (2006). The climate for women in academic science: The good, the bad, and the changeable. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(1), 47-58.

Tierney, W. G., & Dilley, P. (1998). Constructing knowledge: Educational research and gay and lesbian studies. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 49-71). Princeton, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing.

Whitt, E. J., Edison, M. I., Pascarella, E. T., Terenzini, P. T., & Nora, A. (2001). Influences on students’ openness to diversity and challenge in the second and third years of college. The Journal of Higher Education, 72(2), 172-204.

About the Author

Dr. Sue Rankin retired from the Pennsylvania State University in 2012 where she most recently served as an Associate Professor of Education and Senior Research Associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. Over her 36-year tenure at Penn State, Dr. Rankin has presented and published widely on the intersections of identities and the impact of sexism, genderism, racism and heterosexism in the academy and in intercollegiate athletics. Dr. Rankin’s most recent publications include the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People, The Lives of Transgender People (2011) and the NCAA Student-Athlete Climate Study (2011). In her consulting work, Dr. Rankin has collaborated with over 120 institutions/organizations in implementing climate assessments and developing strategic initiatives. Dr. Rankin is a founding member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, a network of professionals doing advocacy work for LGBTQ people on college campuses. Dr. Rankin is the recipient of the ACPA 2008 Voice of Inclusion Medallion, an award that recognizes individuals who embody the student affairs values of social justice. In 2013, Dr. Rankin was selected as the ACPA Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness’ Senior Scholar.

Please e-mail inquiries to Sue Rankin.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

ACPA & NASPA Annual Conferences: A 30-Year Retrospective on LGBTQ Presentations

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

The inclusion of LGBTQ persons in higher education practices, policies, and support is arguably at its strongest in the history of student affairs.  The influence is undoubtedly indebted to the work of practitioners and scholars who provide an oftentimes-unpopular voice for historically marginalized communities on our college campuses (Marine, 2011).  ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education are the leading associations that advance the student affairs profession. ACPA’s (2013) mission states that the association supports student learning and development through the generation and dissemination of new knowledge. As described in the 2011-2014 NASPA Strategic Plan (2013), the aim of the association is to support excellence in practice and change the landscape of higher education.

As the two leading associations for student affairs professionals, ACPA and NASPA are in great positions to set standards of practice for LGBTQ scholars and leaders in higher education.  ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness (SCLGBTA) has been officially recognized since 2002. Similarly, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community (GLBTKC) has officially supported LGBTQ scholarship and practitioners since 2006 (Marine, 2011).  The inclusion of LGBTQ identities and research has been a part of these organizations since the 1980s, but as a community of student affairs practitioners and scholars we have not yet identified the growth of these trends over the last 30 years.


The purpose of this study is to examine the trends over the past 30 years for LGBTQ presentations at ACPA and NASPA annual international conferences. The following questions guide our study:

  1. What is the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual international conferences? What is the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program?
  2. Within LGBTQ programs, what percentage are presentations, social, or other types?
  3. Within LGBTQ presentations, what percentages did structural units sponsor? To what extent do structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations?

As our conception of LGBTQ identities are becoming more complex we must ensure we are responding with inclusive programs and research to support the LGBTQ communities on our campuses and in the field.  Our findings provide a direction for practitioners and scholars to continue to advance LGBTQ scholarship and programs at future ACPA and NASPA conferences.


Data for this study come from annual international conference program books for ACPA and NASPA from 1984-2013. NASPA and ACPA hosted joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007, of which program books were shared. Program books were mailed from the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University.

Upon receiving all program books, we selected programs of all types (presentation, social, other) related to LGBTQ identities and issues. We determined a program involved LGBTQ themes if the abstract and/or title included any of the following words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, trans*, sexual minority, gender minority, and LGBTQ (in any order). All LGBTQ programs were entered into a shared database where we recorded the association, year, program type, program number, sponsorship, title, abstract, author(s), and author(s) institution(s). We also tracked the total number of programs for each conference.

Our ability to identify LGBTQ-related programs was limited to examining only the program titles and abstracts. It is possible that other programs may have included LGBTQ themes but were not identifiable from the program books.


We first determined the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual conferences. From these numbers, we calculated the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program offering. Figure 1 represents the total number of LGBTQ programs at ACPA and NASPA since 1984. Figure 2 offers the percentage of LGBTQ programs from the total program offerings at both ACPA and NASPA. Throughout 1984-2013, there were a total of 200 LGBTQ-related programs at NASPA. This total represents 2.38% of the total 8,420 programs. Within ACPA, there have been 567 LGBTQ-related programs since 1984. Of the 16,994 total programs, this represents 3.34% of the offerings. Combining both conferences, the total number of LGBTQ-related programs from 1984-2013 was 818, representing 2.98% of all 27,410 programs (including ACPA/NASPA joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Total Number of LGBTQ Programs

Figure 2

Figure 2. Percentage of LGBTQ Programs

We classified all LGBTQ offerings in three broad groupings: presentations, social, or other. Presentations included traditional presentations and workshops, papers, roundtables, posters, extended length programs, pre-conference presentations and workshops, idea breaks, suite programs, symposia, institutes, and panels. Social programs included events, meal outings, cabaret, choir, and receptions. We placed all other programs into a third category (e.g., meetings, facilities, drop-in center, and registration). Figure 3 presents the total percentage of LGBTQ programs by type. Across all LGBTQ programs, there were 590 presentations (72.13%), 60 social (7.33%), and 168 other types (20.54%).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Total Percentage of LGBTQ Programs by Type

To examine the extent with which structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations, we determined the percentage of LGBTQ presentations that were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community), other structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committees and Commissions, NASPA’s Knowledge Communities), and those not sponsored. From 1984-2013, 236 LGBTQ presentations (40%) were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units. For the remaining LGBTQ presentations, 52 (8.81%) were sponsored by other structural units, and 302 (51.19%) were not sponsored.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Total Percentage of LGBQT Presentations by Sponsorship


Results from the analyses help to examine the national landscape of ACPA and NASPA in regards to LGBTQ-focused programs. Findings are organized by our research questions and discussed below.

Figure 1 displays the total number of LGBTQ programs from 1984 – 2013. When compared to the independent ACPA and NASPA conferences, there were substantially fewer LGBTQ programs during the joint conferences, particularly during 2007. In recent years, ACPA has increasingly supported a greater number of programs about LGBTQ people. As ACPA serves a large volume of higher education practitioners, the increase in LGBTQ programming may be attributed to a recent focus on LGBTQ people by higher education administrators (Marine, 2011). Findings must be taken with caution because it is not known how many LGBTQ program proposals were submitted in recent years compared to all conference proposals.

ACPA and NASPA programs reflected societal trends of some LGBTQ inclusion in the 1990s (Renn, 2010; Tierney & Dilley, 1998), witnessing a slight decrease in the beginning of the 21st century. This increase in programming in the 1990s may also be attributed to queer theory (Jagose, 1997) as a new theoretical lens to examine LGBTQ student experiences. More attention to services for LGBTQ students may have also created an increase in LGBTQ programs. In the mid- and late-1990s, Ronni Sanlo created the first Lavender Graduation, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) developed its first LGBT program standards, and the Consortium of LGBT Resource Professionals in Higher Education was founded in 1997. Figure 2 demonstrates that despite ACPA having more total programs than NASPA, both conferences have similar proportions of LGBTQ programs.

Figure 3 outlines the breakdown of LGBTQ programs by type. Given the total number of programs, the amount of presentations overwhelmingly outnumbered social and other program types. These findings illustrate both ACPA and NASPA’s commitment to educational and research-driven support for the LGBTQ community. Social events for the LGBTQ community were not included in early ACPA and NASPA conferences. Inclusion of these events in later years demonstrates the importance of building community among members who identify as LGBTQ.

ACPA’s SCLGBTA and NASPA’s GLBTKC both provide avenues for supporting LGBTQ scholarship-based practice and community among student affairs professionals. Identity- and function-based entities (e.g., Standing Committees, Knowledge Communities, Commissions) have the opportunity to sponsor presentations during the annual conferences. Figure 4 outlines the proportion of LGBTQ presentations sponsored by either SCLGBTA or GLBTKC. Sponsorship by other entities within the last decade is virtually none.

As evidence by Figure 4, LGBTQ presentation sponsorship has decreased dramatically over the last six years. We suggest two possibilities for this trend: (1) the LGBTQ community established a foundation where formal sponsorship and support is no longer needed, or (2) the focus of the LGBTQ sponsorship is narrow and many presentations do not fall under these categories. In the first possibility, it indicates the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted and there is no longer need to specifically sponsor or support these presentations. Possibility two presents concerns; if sponsored LGBTQ presentations are declining because topics are too narrowly focused, then scholarship and advocacy for LGBTQ students is at risk of becoming isolated and detached from other topics in higher education. Although program sponsorship implies support and promotion for LGBTQ individuals, lack of sponsorship does not necessarily mean inhibiting or lack of support. As such, these findings should be taken with that consideration.


Findings from this study point to important implications for conference proceedings and student affairs practice. Most centrally is the importance of recognizing the substantial increase of LGBTQ programs at both ACPA and NASPA from 1984 to 2013. Such a large growth demonstrates a central priority for LGBTQ people in student services research and practitioner reflection. Given the focus on intersecting identities in the past decade (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007), student affairs presenters must push themselves to embrace a more complex examination of LGBTQ people in higher education. This complexity should acknowledge not only myriad social identities with which people identify, but also the breadth of functional areas in higher education and student affairs.

Findings from our study demonstrate the need to closely examine the role, functioning, and purpose of LGBTQ-related entity groups within ACPA and NASPA. To what extent do they isolate LGBTQ practice reflections and excuse other entities from not promoting similar work? Should these LGBTQ-related entity groups advocate for more program sponsorship? Moving forward, future publications should more closely examine these LGBTQ programs to determine salient and common themes across student affairs practitioner competencies and functional areas.


Both ACPA and NASPA are the leading associations in advancing scholarship and practice within student affairs. Both associations have a central mission for supporting a changing landscape of higher education that facilitates greater understanding of student development and learning. Findings from this study demonstrated the evolution of LGBTQ identities and experiences over the past 30 years for both ACPA and NASPA. Given these findings, it is evident that the profession of student affairs is embracing LGBTQ people in higher education as an integral facet of college and university contexts.  From here, scholars and practitioners can continue to advance LGBTQ inclusion by assessing policies on their campus and continue to advance discussions at ACPA and NASPA that advance our awareness of LGBTQ campus climate, student development, intersecting identities, and important trends among our LGBTQ communities in higher education.

Discussion Questions

  1. Trends indicate greater acceptance of LGBTQ identities at ACPA and NASPA.  How do these trends compare to LGBTQ inclusion on your campus? What areas need support and what resources are needed to implement LGBTQ inclusive change?
  2. How can you promote continued involvement with LGBTQ practices at ACPA and NASPA among colleagues at your institution?  How can you and your campus administrators foster LGBTQ inclusion on your campus to encourage involvement with LGBTQ education and practice?
  3. How might you utilize ACPA and NASPA to support your endeavors to create inclusive spaces on campus? What resources on your campus would you identify to help create more inclusive LGBTQ spaces?


Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & McEwen, M. K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48(1), 1-22.

ACPA: College Student Educators International (2013). Mission. Retrieved from http://www2.myacpa.org/about-acpa/mission

Jagose, A.R. (1997). Queer theory: An introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Marine, S. B. (2011). Stonewall’s Legacy: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender students in higher education: AEHE (Vol. 152). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (2013). Strategic plan. Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/about/default.cfm

Renn, K. A. (2010). LGBT and queer research in higher education: The state and status of the field. Educational Researcher, 8(2), 132-141.  doi: 10.3102/0013189X10362579

Tierney, W. G., & Dilley, P. (1998). Constructing knowledge: Educational research and Gay and Lesbian studies. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 49-71). Princeton, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing.

About the Authors

Jason C. Garvey is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama and a Research Associate with Campus Pride’s Q Research Institute for Higher Education. He is the recipient of the 2014 AERA Queer Studies SIG Scholar-Activist Dissertation of the Year Award. Dr. Garvey’s research explores issues related to campus and classroom climate, philanthropy and fundraising for higher education alumni, and LGBTQ individuals.  Prior to his faculty appointment, he worked in student services across a variety of functional areas, including academic advising, LGBTQ student advocacy, undergraduate research, residence life, and assessment. Dr. Garvey currently serves as Director of Education for the Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness and is on the Commission for Professional Preparation Directorate, both within ACPA.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason C. Garvey.

Jonathan T. Pryor is a doctoral candidate of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri.  He also serves as the Coordinator for LGBTQIA Programs & Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where his work focuses on LGBTQ education, outreach, resources, and student development.  Jonathan’s research explores LGBTQ campus climate and student leadership and experiences of LGBTQ students.   

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan T. Pryor.

Shonteria Johnson is a doctoral student in the Higher Education program in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama. She currently serves as a Doctoral Research Assistant for the Higher Education program.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shonteria Johnson.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

How to Support the GLBTQIA Community as an Open Christian

Jonathan Ross, Lyndon State College

Higher education professionals who identify as Christian often face a difficult crossroads between two seemingly opposed viewpoints.  Traditionally, Christian values have been touted as anti-GLBTQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Allies).  As a new professional and “Open Christian” (someone who is open about their faith), there were doubts and assumptions made about me that I would not be an advocate for GLBTQIA individuals when joining my campus community.  There were several things I needed to learn in order to overcome the predisposition of what being an open Christian meant, especially as it related to my ability to advocate and support the GLBTQIA community.  The purpose of this article is to share my perspective in a way that will give other Christian professionals insight into this topic and provide space for personal reflection.

Christianity has long been seen as opposing the GLBTQIA community (Heermann, Wiggins, & Rutter, 2007).  This perception hinders the ability of student affairs professionals who are open Christians to advocate for GLBTQIA students.  Pastors and theologians have focused mainly on early Christian biblical literature about homosexuality and, perhaps, narrow interpretations of the Bible when forming their viewpoints.  They have demonstrated little awareness of constructive proposals by lesbian/gay and queer theologians (Lowe, 2009).

Reverends Hagler and Clark (2010) have reviewed the common arguments against GLBTQIA ordination and Church inclusion.  They make the argument that homosexuality is not an abomination, not the sin of Sodom, not like incest, not pedophilia or bestiality, or even dangerous, unhealthy or unnatural.  They argue that male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, how we are born, who we are politically, socially organized, or our economic status: these factors do not have any influence on our status as children of God in Christ (Hagler & Clark, 2010).  This notion of all being children of God also extends to GLBTQIA individuals.  Regardless of how one views the texts that make up the base of Christianity, criticism from gay and lesbian theologians has been insightful in explaining the complex relationships between Christianity and GLBTQIA individuals.  Such criticism draws attention to potential marginalization in Christianity toward students based on sexual biases (Jones, 2009).

Overcoming this marginalization, by seeing everyone as a creation of their spiritual deity, is a challenge all religious and spiritual student affairs practitioners need to face.  Refusal to view all other people, especially marginalized people, as created in the image of God results in severe negative consequences.  Advocating for these marginalized students presents an opportunity for Christians to delve deeper into religious literacy to find the inner meaning of religion.  Jones (2009) states that such a philosophy promises to help bridge destructive divisions, bridging them not by eliding or ignoring the real differences that do exist, but by working to situate those differences in a more productive narrative frame.

Perhaps Christians have more in common with the GLBTQIA community than not.  Christianity and GLBTQIA traditions are similar in the way that they both invoke narratives as a foundation of their identity (Jones, 2009).  Christians and GLBTQIA individuals both have a symbolic example of their identity in the conversion stories of their respective societies.  The coming out story is that symbolic example, whether it is coming to God or coming out about one’s sexuality (Jones, 2009).  Christian theology is narratively shaped with an emphasis on personal conversion. Christian individuals see their converted life as having its source and pattern in the life of Christ.  Similarly, in gay and lesbian communities, coming out stories have long functioned in epistemologically and ethically foundational ways (Jones, 2009).  In this light, higher education professionals have a commonality with GLBTQIA individuals, which can be used to build relationships.  One’s coming-to-Jesus moments are a lot like coming out for the first time.  The self-actualization of one’s true beliefs and feelings can be similarly conceptualized.

Higher education professionals should be aware of the emotional and psychological challenges they may need to overcome regarding GLBTQIA issues in order to be effective campus leaders.  Equality and inclusion are central tenets of all student affairs professionals, regardless of religious or other personal beliefs (Bresciani & Todd, 2010).  Roper (2005) believes that personal awareness and openness are key characteristics of positive leadership on the part of student affairs administrators. He states that awareness is improved by exploring the attitudes and values that have shaped one’s worldview.  Personal awareness and openness allow us to be cognizant of how our worldview influences how we act toward others.  Student affairs leaders should first explore the backgrounds of their lives to identify incidents and episodes that enhance or impair their ability to lead in a manner that is supportive of GLBTQIA students (Roper, 2005).  As professionals dedicated to building community at our institutions, those in student affairs should fully participate in the GLBTQIA community—in celebration, reflection, and grieving experiences—as opportunities arise on our campuses.  Students count on these professionals for support.  Therefore, GLBTQIA students should be able to count on student affairs administrators to be present at the events in which their growth and development is critical.

Student affairs professionals must be aware of the consequences of discrimination, including threats/harm, mental health symptoms, academic implications, and health risks of GLBTQIA students.  Not knowing the risks and harm that can potentially come to these students may leave professionals incapable of helping this particularly vulnerable campus constituency.  Sexual minority youth are significantly more likely than their heterosexual peers to miss school because of fear: to be threatened with a weapon at school, to have property damaged at school, and to have forced sexual contact against their will (Wolff & Himes, 2010).  While bullying and harassment are serious concerns regardless of the victim, students who identify as GLBTQIA may feel especially isolated and unable to seek help.  The dangers that GLBTQIA students face are serious and real.  They may feel pressured to keep struggles secret from their communities and are more likely to seek out social and romantic relationships through discreet and accessible venues such as GLBTQIA bars, clubs, and Web sites (Wolff & Himes, 2010), which can be dangerous.  Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that sexual minority youth in states that have constitutional amendments against same-sex unions are more likely to experience depressive symptoms and generalized anxiety (Wolff & Himes, 2010).  In order for higher education professionals to be effective leaders, we must recognize and react to these potential dangers.

There are numerous opportunities for Christians at institutions of higher education to begin to offer love and support to GLBTQIA students.  As Christians, it is within our faiths to stand against persecution and advocate for those who have been discriminated against.  It is also important to begin to make the necessary changes that will foster a campus climate of grace and compassion for our GLBTQIA brothers and sisters.  One particular way to create this type of environment is to make offices safe spaces for all students.  Taking steps such as using symbols of GLBTQIA support, can help professionals create an atmosphere of support.  Staff visibility at GLBTQIA pride events, social events, meetings, and training programs can show students that higher education professionals support them.  Further, sharing religious narratives with students, as they relate to their own stories, is another step towards supporting GLBTQIA students.

In conclusion, compassion and understanding are the most effective instruments in supporting GLBTQIA students and in combating perceived Christian prejudice.  Upholding the Christian values of unconditional love and renunciation of violence can help professionals overcome personal biases and advocate for equality and inclusion in the campus community.  Both Christians and GLBTIQIA students have a shared story on coming out to our faith and true selves.  Student affairs administrators need to be aware of the hardships that all students may face and to help them through those hardships.  There are ways that Christians can support others, even if they are not fully accepting of their differences.  If beliefs are contradictory to a Christian’s lifestyle, it is not for professionals to persecute those beliefs, but rather to befriend the individuals and advocate for them.  If Christians can accomplish this, then the field of student affairs will be more progressive in helping GLBTQIA students lead safer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Discussion Questions

1.How does the GLBTQIA community view open Christians on your campus?  To what extent does that view impact their relationship with student affairs leaders?

2.What partnerships can you build upon to strengthen the relationships between the non-GLBTQIA Christian, non-Christian GLBTQIA, and Christian GLBTQIA communities?

3.How can we engage participants to find mutual ground for compassion and advocacy?


Bresciani, M., & Todd, M. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Professional_Competencies.pdf

Hagler, D., & Clark, A. (2010). A Resource on GLBTQ Ordination. Network News, 30(4), 9-15.

Heermann, M., Wiggins, M., & Rutter, P. (2007). Creating a space for spiritual practice: Pastoral possibilities with sexual minorities. Pastoral Psychology, 55, 711-721.

Jones, N. W. (2009). The challenge of Christianity for gay and lesbian criticism—and vice versa. Christianity & Literature, 58(2), 238-243.

Lowe, M. (2009). Gay, lesbian, and queer theologies: origins, contributions, and challenges. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 48(1), 49-61.

Roper, L. D. (2005). The role of senior student affairs officers in supporting LGBT students: Exploring the landscape of one’s life. New Directions For Student Services, 111, 81-88.

Wolff, J. R., & Himes, H. L. (2010). Purposeful exclusion of sexual minority youth in Christian higher education: The implications of discrimination. Christian Higher Education, 9(5), 439-460.

About the Author

Jonathan Ross is a Residence Hall Director/Programming and Community Service Coordinator at Lyndon State College.  Previously, he was a Graduate Hall Director at New England College, where he received his Master’s in Higher Education Administration.  He received his Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Music Business from Plymouth State University.  Currently, his responsibilities at Lyndon consist of residential programming, the Community Service Learning program, as well as direct responsibility for four co-ed housing facilities.  Jonathan’s research interests include equity and inclusion, specifically on supporting ethnic diversity at small schools. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan Ross.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Who Let the Gays Out? (Apologies to the Baha Men)

by Gretchen J. Metzelaarsm Ohio State University

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

When we choose to live authentically we chip away at others’ prisons of pretend and create an opportunity for them to walk out of darkness into freedom.
― Anthony Venn-BrownA Life of Unlearning

I carefully scanned the room to see into the eyes of my compatriots. Were they nervous? Frightened?  Guilty?  Relieved?  Thankful?  We were huddled in the basement of the university’s theater, hiding from the world.  We were “out” to each other and some to our friends, but we were hiding from our institutional colleagues and students.  We were, after all, “the gays.”  It was the year 1989, but the world was beginning to change.  We did introductions: a chemistry professor, a theater associate professor, an education professor, two from the library, several staff members, a grounds person and me, the assistant director of the student union.  We were an assortment of races, an assortment of ages, an assortment of intellect, and an assortment of commitment to making the university a better place for the gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) community.

This is the story of an evolution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals through the eyes of an administrator who bore witness.  As the country matured and university communities came to understand they had LGBTQ friends, roommates, colleagues, faculty members, family, and others; the evolution/revolution on the campus began to mirror what was happening in the country.

These were the days when we were not strong enough to accept or even acknowledge that our sisters and brothers in the transgender community shared our fight.  They were different:  some were invisible and some were trying to make their way alone.  We were hesitant to add a community that might put our possible “acceptance” by the mainstream at peril.  Just another symptom of the fearful place in which we lived.  Years earlier, we had logged many hours discussing and arguing about our bisexual brothers and sisters.  “If we include them will our argument be lost?”  For years many straight people postulated that gays and lesbians “practiced” our sexual orientation and our “practice” was akin to bestiality, child abuse, and mental illness. The Fred Phelps of the 21st century may have been an anomaly to some, but in the late 20th century people like Phelps were everywhere; including in our government, our workplaces and often in our homes.  No wonder we were frightened.

As advisor to the queer student association (variously named GLB, LGB, LGBA, LGBTQA), I worked with about 40 students who ranged from being incredibly closeted and fearful to those who were ready to fight “out loud” for the benefits that straight people took for granted.  Experience and research told me that it was important for our students to have positive role models.  Role models are described in the literature as “a person you respect, follow, look up to or want to be like” (Bricheno & Thornton, 2007, p.385).  The students were looking for role models, for compatriots in the fight, and for confirmation that their identities were “normal.”  I consistently encouraged my theater basement colleagues to meet the students and to get to know them.  Each one of my colleagues was terrified—terrified of being exposed, terrified of being accused, terrified of being fired.

It was the “Stone Age” of gay rights, the time of Stonewall, defending ourselves against the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic and panic, GLB patriots being thrown out of the military, and physical and verbal abuse by strangers.  Additionally, we were fighting in the courts to be able to care for our partners as Karen Thompson was forced to do in custody battle in order to care for Sharon Kowalski.  We had made some progress in the 1970s and early 1980s, but our community was dealt a reeling blow when AIDS struck down many of our brothers.  This not only decimated us emotionally and physically, but it provided more ammunition for those who hated us.  And the haters took every opportunity to build fear of the GLB community into the populace.  As I worked with our student organization, I knew they would benefit profoundly from positive faculty and staff role models, but what would it take to get my colleagues out of our basement closet and into the light of our growing student community?  It would take the 1993 March on Washington, the impact of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and George (and Barbara) Bush to get us out of our basement closet.

Are you surprised to see the name of George H. W. (and Barbara) in this essay about emerging from the cloud of fear?  President Bush was the first President to invite openly gay people into the White House when he signed landmark legislation calling for a study of hate crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  Barbara Bush responded to a letter from the president of PFLAG with these words: “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals and groups in our country” (Marcus, 2002, p. 333).

“Two, four, six, eight, God does not discriminate.”
Chant during March on Washington

We gathered on a beautiful sunny morning at the base of the Washington Monument to march with our brothers and sisters.  Faculty, staff, and students FINALLY united together.  Many of us were in tears when told we would have to wait at least two hours to begin the march as there were tens of thousands of people who would start before us.  The tears flowed not because of the delay but because we realized that there were so many people marching.  It was a celebration long in the making.  We all sported our pins:

Replica Pin March on Washington GLBT Rights

As we tried to move forward, there were many trying to push us back.  Some members of Congress were in the midst of creating a gay backlash by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, attacking a gay man nominated for the position of ambassador to Luxemburg and publicly calling gays “weak, morally sick wretches.”As we walked the two-mile route toward the Capitol, I was amazed at the diversity of our community – all shapes, sizes, ages, appearance:  Dykes on Bikes marching/roaring along beside a group of Drag Queens.  We were happy, screaming and shouting:  “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”  Then we saw the protesters; they called themselves Christians.  We called them hate-filled reactionaries.  Their signs said, “Homosexuality is a sin,” “God Hates You,” “You Will Burn in Hell.”  Once again the fear began to overtake us, but our students would not let us retreat. Under the students’ leadership, the hate-filled language actually steeled our resolve.  If we could march on Washington with hundreds of thousands of our community members and look into faces of hate and survive, we were officially “out.” Who let the gays out?  Those who hated us did.

We had our champions; the media had begun showing palatable gays in movies such as Philadelphia (thank you Tom Hanks) and on television shows such as Melrose Place, Friends, and Roseanne.  Ellen DeGeneres was and is our superstar.  She took a major risk and a major stance when her character came out on her show Ellen.  Five of us sat holding hands in front of the TV when, during the coming out episode, Ellen said; “I’m gay;” and her seemingly quiet personal announcement was inadvertently broadcast over the airport’s public address system.  Our reaction was cheering and sheer joy.  Unfortunately for Ellen, she was vilified and attacked by the press and hated by much of the public, eventually losing her show.

But we were finally ready to move forward.  The faculty, staff, and students gathered together to develop a strategy to create a campus that treated the queer community with dignity.  Through discussions, study, and the understanding and belief of the university president; we moved forward.  We embraced the notion that without our advocacy and leadership, the university community would sit stagnate and would never move to be a true educational institution.  We believed the university imperative should be to both educate and engage in a community conversation about and with the GLB community, and most importantly, that in order to educate our students as active and good citizens; they must participate in the discussion.  Within the next five years, we had an incredibly strong student organization, an LGBT Equity Center, a full-time staff member championing our community, a LGBT Studies Program, and a LGBT alumni association.

Though universities did not lead (and actually barely followed) the evolution/revolution, our students did.  Basoc and Howe (1979) stated that “Role models have been defined as people whose lives and activities influence another person in some way” (Quimby & DeSantis, 2006, p. 297).  The students taught us how and when to protest, that we need not be afraid, and the meaning of “leading a cultural revolution.”  In the end, the students were our role models.

When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference.  That reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices.
― Bishop John Shelby Spong

Discussion Questions

  1. What international and/or national events contribute or contributed to your personal and professional identity?
  2. Are there instances when you would partner with your students to protest a perceived injustice?  If so, what would be the risk?  How much of a risk to your livelihood and health would you be willing to take?
  3. What are your parameters when working with students?  Will you have contact with them personally as well as a professionally?  What are the risks?


Basoc, S. A., & Howe, K. G. (1979). Model influence on career choices of college students. The Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 27, 239-245.

Bricheno, P. & Thornton, M. (2007). Role model, hero or champion?  Children’s views concerning role models.  Educational Research, 49(4), 383-396.

Marcus, E. (2002).  Making gay history: The half-century fight for lesbian and gay equal rights. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Quimby, J. L. & DeSantis, A. M.  (2006). The influence of role models on women’s career choices. The Career Development Quarterly, 54, 297-306.

Venn-Brown, A. (2007). A life of unlearning: One man’s journey to find the truth (2nd Ed.). New Holland Publishing Australia.

About the Author

Gretchen J. Metzelaars is currently the Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life at The Ohio State University, a position she has held since June 2010.  In this position she provides the Office of Student Life with strategic direction for dining services, housing administration, the Ohio Union, orientation, residence life and student activities.  Additionally, she is the faculty advisor to the Muslim Student Association.  Dr. Metzelaars has been involved in several national organizations including ACPA, ACU-I and NACAS. Currently, she was chair of the ACPA 2014 Convention. She was selected to be the ACPA Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness’ Senior Practitioner and was recently honored with selection as a senior member of Annuit Coeptis.  She was chosen as an ACPA Diamond Honoree in 2008.  She has spoken nationally on a variety of topics including leadership; multiculturalism; homosexuality and the Bible; gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech in 1975, her Master of Science of Recreation from Indiana University in 1979, and her Ph.D. in Recreation from the University of Maryland in 1995.

Please e-mail inquiries to Gretchen J. Metzelaars.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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