graphic with a green background. on the right side, a person's legs and feet wearing grey shoes and LGBT pride month socks.

Thriving in the fullness of our complex selves

This story was originally published in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion blog.

Clare Lemke (she/her/hers) is committed to fostering a university community that celebrates queer and trans histories, cultures and lives. As the director of the LGBT Resource Center, Lemke serves as one of the campus leaders empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) students and providing educational/cultural events for the entire campus. Since her arrival at the University of Utah in 2019, the LGBT Resource Center has been strategizing and further embedding its support for LGBTQIA+ students.

This academic year, the LGBT Resource Center established two new initiatives to expand its vision of providing “frameworks where LGBTQIA+ students thrive in the fullness of their complex selves,” which are the QTSOCs (pronounced “Q-T socks”) community space and Queer and Trans Student of Color Community Development Specialist position.

Olga Rodriguez (she/her/hers) has joined the LGBT Resource Center as the inaugural Queer and Trans Student of Color Community Development Specialist. Her responsibilities include organizing and leading the QTSOCs community space and assisting the center with dismantling oppressive systems in higher education.

In this Q&A, Lemke and Rodriguez share insight into the LGBT Resource Center’s new initiatives for QTSOC community building and advice on how we can all contribute to a more inclusive campus.

To clarify for those who may not know this acronym, what does QTSOC stand for?

Olga Rodriguez: Queer and Trans Students of Color. I am not sure about the history of the acronym but I have heard and used this acronym since my first year at the U. I believe the acronym is on the rise as more people learn about it.

Clare Lemke: I first started seeing the term queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) used in community and academic spaces about 20 years ago, though I’m sure it may have been in use longer than that. It’s a coalitional term meant to unite people of diverse identities into a political alliance. Though, it is also sometimes used to describe social spaces that may not have a defined political purpose. This is how we define QTSOC on our website for the program: The term “people of color” refers to those who are Black/African American, Indigenous, Asian/Asian American, Latina/o/x, Pacific Islander, Arab/Arab American, and/or Multiracial. The term “queer” is being used here as a term that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex and/or asexual/aromantic people.

How will the Queer and Trans Student of Color Community Development Specialist better position the LGBT Resource Center to assist the University of Utah community?

Rodriguez: This is the first step to bridge the gap that exists between students of color and the LGBT Resource Center. The position attracted me because as a queer woman of color, I continuously felt as though I was either a POC or a queer woman, but not both. It was confusing for me and I searched for other queer women of color to help me navigate my identities. My objectives for this role are to create a space where QTSOC are able to find community, friends, mentors, and more. I know what it feels like to be unsure of myself and my identities. I hope this group can ease that stress.

Lemke: This role allows us to have a dedicated staff member whose entire focus is on QTSOC community building on campus. While all of our staff are engaged in asking how we de-center Whiteness in the ways we talk about LGBTQIA+ lives and how we challenge racist behaviors and systems in our center, there is still a real need for affinity spaces for LGBTQIA+ BIPOC students to connect to each other. The fact that this role is focused on creating that type of space is important for those students who might not have other avenues to find QTSOC community at our university. This position allows us to do some really intentional community building with and outreach to QTSOC.

What is the QT SOCs community space and how can students take advantage of it?

Rodriguez: QT SOCs is an affinity space where queer and trans students of color are able to meet and connect with each other. There are fun socials and more serious discussions happening throughout this group. Students can get involved by heading over to lgbt.utah.edu and seeing when our next event is!

Lemke: There are also opportunities to connect students to a larger QTPOC community within the university and in the local community with different collaborations or guests who may be part of this program. It was created because our staff saw a gap on our campus for QTSOC community. When I first arrived on campus in 2019, there was a student organization focused on QTSOC community but it disbanded in the summer of 2019 after its leadership moved on and graduated. After that time, we were not able to find students who had the capacity to restart that organization, but we did see students wanting that type of space again.

While we are always here to support students who want to form student organizations for LGBTQIA+ community and justice, we wanted to make sure that there was something that was institutionalized around QTSOC community building. So regardless of what was happening on our campus in terms of QTSOC community building, students can count on there being an avenue to get connected to this type of community space.

Any advice on how we can implement advocacy and space for QTSOC individuals in our respective offices, programs, departments, colleges?

Rodriguez: I think the most important thing we can do for queer and trans students of color is to see students as the complex humans they are. There are multiple identities within each person and it is important for those in higher positions of power to recognize those different intersecting identities. By respecting and recognizing these identities, we give power and confidence to our students.

Lemke: We really need to stop talking about students in single identity terms, which I think most of us who work in higher education know. The way our systems and resource allocation are set up makes it hard to break out of talking about “LGBTQ students” or “students of color” as somehow separate groups. When we are creating resources for LGBTQ students, often the question not asked is how will we ensure this space isn’t just comfortable for White students only? Or when we are making a resource for students of color, often the question isn’t asked, how will this curriculum challenge heterosexism and cisgenderism? This isn’t a problem limited to just one department or even just our institution as a whole; this is a widespread problem in higher education.

I think there are great models of people doing the work to change this. If people want to look at examples in scholarly work, academic programs, or community programs outside of higher education, I encourage people to research models that are relevant to the specific type of work they are doing and talk with colleagues inside or outside of your institution before jumping to start something new or make changes.

If your school, college or department has an LGBTQ History Month event in the works this October, submit your information through this form. These events will be compiled into one calendar and assist with cohesive outreach efforts across the entire U system. For any questions, please contact Clare Lemke at clemke@sa.utah.edu.

Please keep in mind that LGBTQIA+ programming should not be limited to these dates—we should honor, celebrate, and engage our LGBTQIA+ community every day, 12 months a year. We encourage everyone to use the LGBTQIA+ IntersectX12 on your event promotion to honor individuals’ intersecting identities not only during nationally recognized months but serve as year-round recognition of the work being done to create an inclusive space where everyone feels they belong.