Clemson LGBTQ+ Pride Growing on Campus

Campus life for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff at any college or university reflects the larger society and its cultural context at any given time.  It is no different at Clemson University where a need was recognized and its commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity are being realized through programs under the auspices of the Harvey and Lucinda Gant Multicultural Center.

Ciera Durden is Associate Director for Multicultural Community Development and leads the Gant Center’s LGBTQ+ programming for students along with her graduate assistant, Brandon Rodriguez. While she acknowledges there is room for growth and improvement at Clemson, the desire to understand the issues and efforts to improve campus life for the queer community are there.

For her efforts, Ciera was recently awarded Advisor of the Year for the 2019-2020 academic year.  Ciera understands from her own experience what it is like being a queer student at a Southern university and relates that “One of the main reasons I do LGBTQ+ work is because I was a closeted gay kid in Georgia who only managed to survive through finding compassionate people and outlets to live openly.”

Living openly LGBTQ+ at Clemson is supported through a number of student organizations, student government and on-campus events such as Pride in April, National Coming Out Week in October, Trans Awareness Week in November, and the Lavender Celebration of Graduates ceremony. Other activities throughout the academic year include LGBTQ+ ally training and a slate of speakers and presentations. For a detailed listing of programs and activities on campus, visit the LGBTQ Programs section of the Clemson University Website at http://www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/gantt/lgbtq-programs.

While COVID-19 restrictions may have put a damper on public events, it could not dampen the spirits of all involved in Pride Month last April as a robust schedule of virtual activities were held via Zoom, Instagram, Podcast and Netflix watch parties. The #ClemsonPride2020 theme, “All you need is love,” and those who embraced it were not to be denied their opportunity to be together and celebrate, even if only through a virtual experience in the “new normal” environment.

The university postponed May commencement ceremonies, but Lavender graduates were treated to individual videos by LGBTQ+ alumni and staff offering encouragement, congratulations, and the customary cheer “Go Tigers!” Keep an eye on our social media for announcements about in-person or virtual events for LGBTQ+ students and alumni this fall, depending upon safety concerns and restrictions in place at that time.

Other important developments on campus involve creating safe spaces and normalizing the LGBTQ+ experience among the student population. As a hopeful first step toward establishing an LGBTQ+ Resource Center on campus, the university has dedicated lounge space for LGBTQ+ students in the Student Union. It provides a place for students to just hang out and for student organizations to meet and plan programming. The space was slated to officially open during Clemson’s Pride events but has been postponed until students can safely gather on campus once more.

Planning is also underway for a LGBTQ+ Living Learning Community in Gressette Hall to open in the fall of 2021. Living space will be suite-style accommodations friendly to the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students. Academically, LLC residents will engage in LGBTQ+ studies and participate in LGBTQ+ research headed by Dr. Rachel Wagner from the university’s College of Education.

The LLC effort is led by a steering committee of Clemson student leaders, faculty, and staff, and is spearheaded by Tyler McDougald, an undergraduate student leader who is also the president of Clemson’s Rainbow Fellowship, an LGBTQ+ mentorship program.  The steering committee’s stated mission is “to provide a safe, comfortable, and embracing residential space within Clemson Housing to members of the LGBTQIA+ Community. We propose that a Living Learning Community is the most effective mechanism to achieve that goal. Through community, education, and leadership development, residents in the Living Learning Community will finally have access to the appropriate resources necessary for a successful transition to and life at Clemson University.”

These are among the many positive steps being taken by the university to support LGBTQ+ initiatives, and Clemson has certainly come a long way since many of us were undergrads there. In speaking with LGBTQ+ student leaders, faculty, and staff, while needs are certainly being addressed, there is still room for improvement.

The general feeling on campus is one of optimism and that Clemson is heading in the right direction, yet there is a desire for the university to be more vocal in its support and for senior administration officials to take a more active role. While the LGBTQ+ Alumni Council centers its work around the alumni community, we enjoy a collaborative partnership with the Clemson University LGBTQ Commission, whose purpose is to advise the administration on areas of improvement on campus.

And, student leaders are asking for more engagement from LGBTQ+ alumni. This is an area where your LGBTQ+ Alumni Council participation can make a difference. One of the Council Board’s top priorities going forward is to explore ways alumni and students can better connect in constructive ways through programs and on-campus events within the university’s guidelines and organizational structure.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for announcements about upcoming events and opportunities to support a thriving environment for students and a strong community of your fellow Clemson LGBTQ+ alumni and allies.