Although UTSA added sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected groups under the UTSA Non-Discrimination Policy, anti-LGBT hate speech continues to be a problem on campus.
If it were only just a handful of individuals participating in anti-LGBT hate speech, it would be another story. Unfortunately, some UTSA student organizations are also guilty of perpetuating LGBT-phobia through anti-LGBT hate speech. This is immensely counteractive to UTSA’s vision of fostering a safe space on campus for LGBT students, especially since violence against LGBT individuals is still a problem in San Antonio and Texas.
On April 2013, San Antonio residents Juan Huerta-Gonzalez, Aurelio Huerta-Gonzalez, and Filiberto Huerta-Gonzalez, beat their 48 year old out neighbor while he was doing laundry at their apartment complex because they claimed he was flirty with them. Following that attack, on September 2, 2013, Arron Keahey fell victim to physical violence at the hands of Brice Johnson, a man he met on a social media app after being led to believe he was interested in forming a relationship with him. The attack was so severe that Keahey sustained multiple skull fractures, and smashed facial bones. These incidents are not isolated and are bolstered by unaddressed anti-LGBT hate speech.
According to a study conducted by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar Mark L. Hatzenbuehler at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “LGB youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.” The study, titled, “The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in a Population-Based Sample of LGB Youth,” also found that “Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGB youth attempt suicide at significantly higher rates than heterosexuals.”
Student organizations that undauntedly engage in violent speech against LGBT individuals only do so because, although UTSA is committed to its LGBT students, it refuses to vigorously reach out to student organizations on the issue of common courtesy to LGBT individuals like it does for Orientation Sessions and Risk Management Training. To be fair, the Risk Management Training is imposed by the state government, but UTSA showed that its ability to adopt progressive policies independent of the state when it expanded its Non-Discrimination Policy to include LGBT individuals in August.
If student organization leaders and a sizeable amount of members were required to attend Ally Trainings like they do Risk Management Trainings or if Ally Trainings were at least incorporated into student organization Get Orientated Sessions, incidents of anti-LGBT hate speech in student organizations will significantly decrease.
This type of expansion on UTSA policy will not be an infringement of the rights of UTSA student organizations because like it was mentioned earlier, UTSA already requires student organizations to participate in Get Oriented Sessions and Risk Management Training to improve the student organization process.
This has already been attempted in Texas. In December 2013 a group of students from a UNT women’s studies class petitioned their university to provide an ally training program at new student orientations. They did not want the training to be mandatory, however, just available for students who are interested. Unfortunately their petition did not have the signatures showing support so UNT has not implemented the program.
Although there are admirable aspects of their approach, if the goal was to reduce normative LGBT-phobia in UTSA student organizations, it would be more effective if Ally Trainings became a mandatory aspect of student organization’s operations.
Admittedly, there might be drawbacks to the mandatory method, as it is possible that it will only intensify people’s LGBT-phobia because they will feel that they are being “wrongfully persecuted” for their “just beliefs.” However, this program will not be mandatory for all UTSA students, just UTSA student organizations.
Opponents might argue that a more moderate approach might be to require student organization leaders to attend Ally Trainings if it comes to the attention of the school authorities that they engaged in anti-LGBT hate speech during their organization’s general meetings.
This is another good approach, but I maintain that requiring student organizations to participate in Ally Trainings or incorporating Ally trainings into student organization orientations is worth trying out because it does not put undue burdens on the organizations, or at least not as much of a burden as the Risk Management Trainings.
On the other hand, since these type of programs have not been successfully implemented at any college to my knowledge, it might be a stretch to say that such a feat is foreseeable in UTSA’s future, but I can only hope.