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Addressing anti-LGBTQIA+ bias at the U

This piece is part of an ongoing series about discrimination and how to prevent it.

Creating a campus community where everyone feels safe and respected is an ongoing goal at the University of Utah. In the 2022-2023 school year, the Racist and Bias Incident Response Team (RBIRT) received multiple reports of anti-LGBTQIA+ bias on campus, including vandalism of a Pride Week poster and homophobic hate language written on notes left in Gardner Commons.

These examples highlight forms of overt anti-LGBTQIA+ bias on our campus, but there are many forms of bias that are less obvious. In this Q&A, Harry Hawkins, the director of the U’s LGBT Resource Center, provides more information about what anti-LGBTQIA+ bias may look like and how members of the campus community can work to better take care of each other.

How do you define anti-LGBTQIA+ bias? 

Let’s start with defining bias. It’s a series of behaviors based on assumptions that you have about a certain group that are usually not correct. If you change your behaviors and how you interact with someone based on their identity, that is bias. 

Going deeper and talking about anti-LGBTQIA+ bias, it’s if you are treating people differently based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. You don’t always know if someone is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, but if you are treating them differently either because of their identity or your perception of their identity, that is bias.

How can anti-LGBTQIA+ bias or discrimination manifest itself?

This bias can exist in policies or things that are in place that make it more difficult for these members of our community to just exist and navigate our campus. Bias can also appear as assumptions people make about others. 

One example from a previous university I worked at is an issue that came up in the Greek Life community when they held a social. The assumption was if you were a man in a fraternity, you were bringing a woman to the event. The gay men in the fraternity had to have a conversation with their chapter about why this assumption was wrong. It was unintentional and wasn’t coming from a hostile perspective, but it didn’t apply to them and made them feel unwelcome at the event. 

The conversation in this instance went well, but they don’t always. However, I always encourage people to extend grace both ways. I always tell folks, you know when someone is being a jerk. But there are times when someone may genuinely not know that they are exhibiting bias and having that conversation can make a difference. You would be surprised. I think outcomes tend to be a little bit better when grace is shown.

Another example is lived names. This is an issue that extends beyond the trans and non-binary community. Many people use a name that is different from their legal name. An example I use with faculty and staff is this: at the beginning of the semester when you get a roster of student names, if you find out someone goes by a different name, you just make a note on the list to call them that. However, if you believe a student is asking to be called by a different name because they are trans or non-binary and you don’t make the adjustment because of that, that is bias. 

Slurs, such as the f-word or n-word should never be used, period, full stop; there is no context or situation where it is appropriate to say them. 

Many times when people use expressions like “that is so gay,” they are using it to communicate “that is so stupid.” We should pause and think, what am I trying to say? Using someone’s identity to say that person or situation is stupid isn’t validating or respectful.

How does anti-LGBTQIA+ bias hurt members of our campus community?

Bias starts out directed one way and it just grows and becomes a bigger thing, and then it leads to bigger things and impacts everyone. Biases happen to everyone. They crop up for many of us when we least expect them. So if you don’t think they will happen to you, I hope you can live life perfectly in a filtered bubble, because I promise bias is going to find you.   

Understanding the unconscious bias that we may have is really the way to stop harassment and nip it in the bud, because bias really does escalate upwards to harassment. I don’t want anyone to be a victim of bias or harassment on our campus, and this extends beyond the LGBTQIA+ community. I don’t want you being harassed because of what you believe, who you worship, who you love, or anything else.

What steps can campus community members take to prevent and reduce anti-LGBTQIA+ harassment and discrimination?

Listen harder. If someone brings up to you that you acted with unconscious bias, that is okay—it happens. But you need to work to correct your behavior. If someone gently pulls you aside and tells you, “This is how your action made me feel,” listen harder. 

It’s helpful to engage in active listening when this happens. We don’t have to listen to respond. We can take a moment and process and work to understand where they are coming from and change our behavior. We need to make space to work on our own behavior because it is not the responsibility of the person we have harmed to work through our feelings with us. 

What resources are available for LGBTQIA+ members of our campus community to access support and help?

The top one is the LGBT Resource Center. This is a great first stop for any member of our LGBTQIA+ community, and even students who aren’t, to get support. Our center is open to any student who wants to use it. We also help students connect with other resources on campus. 

If you have experienced discrimination, you should always reach out to the Office of Equal Opportunity.