On Monday, Jan. 18, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order protecting state employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Previously, the Montana University System had been the highest organization in the state with similar laws in place. Alex Paterson, president of The Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) at MSU, said that the executive order prompted QSA to send an email to the Office of the President advocating for an increase in administrative support for the LGBTQIA community, stating their demands for a safe and inclusive environment on campus. According to Paterson, the Diversity Awareness Office currently offers some services to benefit the LGBTQIA community, such as safe zone training for faculty; however, he added that the office is small and does not have the resources to provide adequate support. Paterson started an LGBTQIA mentoring program through the office, but it does not receive any funding from the university. To improve the situation, QSA requested funding for the addition of an LGBTQIA-specific staff member. QSA also asked that by the year 2020 a gender-neutral bathroom be available in each campus building, as well as a gender-neutral locker room in the gym and gender-neutral housing options in residence halls. According to Paterson, MSU’s current binary infrastructure does not provide safe and convenient facilities for transgender students and staff. “For a trans person on campus, just trying to use the restroom is a daily struggle,” Paterson said, stating that some individuals need to walk up to 20 minutes to go to the bathroom on campus, as family restrooms are currently not available in all buildings. Additionally, students want documents provided to faculty outlining best practices and inclusive language information, educating about how to create a comfortable environment for all students. This aims to prevent microaggressions in the classroom by avoiding the use of binary or heteronormative language in addition to preventing explicitly homophobic actions. Results of a study conducted by the Diversity Awareness Office showed that 32 percent of discrimination faced by LGBTQIA people at MSU occurred in the classroom.
“For a nonbinary student on the first day of class, it can be pretty traumatic to have the professor read the name you used to associate with, that was assigned to you that you no longer associate with, that’s a really outing experience,” Paterson said. Students are demanding that the administration take responsibility for the distribution of this information, rather than placing it on the students. “We don’t think this should be a burden on the students to create, because unfortunately all of the LGBTQ support is done by the students,” Paterson said. QSA is also requesting that there be an easy way for students to change their preferred name that is shown on official MSU documents such as diplomas, online accounts and class rosters, just as students can change their preferred email address through MyInfo. According to Paterson, similar systems are in place at many other universities. “We want people to be themselves at MSU,” he said. The students’ final demand is that a system be implemented to place LGBTQIA students with accepting roommates in the residence halls. “Residence life has been one of our greatest allies so far,” Paterson said. However, he noted that students have been advocating for this for over two years and have met many institutional barriers.
QSA’s email had received no acknowledgement from the administration until the ASMSU Senate meeting on Thursday, Jan 21, where Paterson voiced the concerns of the students in front of the student government as well as President Waded Cruzado. Cruzado stated that the email had not yet reached her directly, and the Office of the President has now committed to meeting with QSA representatives next week to discuss their requests. Students are acting on their belief that the administration needs to step up and do their part in creating a campus where all students can thrive, not only those who conform to binary and heteronormative standards. “Creating a safe environment should not be placed solely on the students, especially the students who are already a minority,” Paterson said.