LGBT-Friendly Florida Colleges: Tied Second Place is University of South Florida

The Running of the Bulls in front of the University of South Florida's Marshall Center. Photo by Rick DeBow.

Nestled in the Tampa Bay area, the University of South Florida has quietly become one of the most LGBT friendly schools in the state.

One of the biggest factors on this change is the President's Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI). This unique role to USF answers directly to the university president and suggests ways for the campus to be more LGBT friendly.

In the most recent annual report by the position, ongoing goals included creating a cross-discipline LGBT studies initiative as a minor or certificate, increasing the awarded amount for the LGBT Alumni Scholarship and bringing a nationally renowned LGBT speaker to campus.

As a diverse community, USF has several student organizations that cater to LGBT student needs. Those include Trans+ Alliance, a group that provides monthly support groups for transgender and gender non-conforming people, as well as the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, which stands for People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality.

P.R.I.D.E is the longest continually run gay student organization in Florida since its founding in 1974. According to organization president Montana Swiger, the group provides educational and support meetings for LGBT individuals at the school and presentations on gender and sexuality stereotypes.

“I would say P.R.I.D.E.’s most recent and proudest accomplishment would be the talent show we just put on last month,” they said. “Our annual talent show is a chance for everyone to have fun and express themselves in a supportive environment and always draws a crowd.”

USF also has an LGBT and Allied Med Students organization, which provides info on the most LGBT friendly medical schools and serves as a place where students can learn more about LGBT issues in medicine.

The school has taken steps to preserve LGBT history both in the area and internationally through the University Library’s Special Collection Department. According to the LGBT collection’s website, they have photographs and objects dating back to the 1930s to present day that have significance to the LGBT community.

“Donations to the collection are very common, and range from a phone call out of the blue from a patron who has seen our website, to follow-up visits after I have spoken at a local event or to a class,” Director of Special Collections Matthew Knight said. “These donations are usually monographs or archival/ephemeral materials. Quite often donors give us books in terrific shape because they feel they will not be added to the shelves of any public library.”

Notably, all objects are readily available to view on the library’s website for those who are not in the area. Knight said that the collection is always taking donations and will accept them from both inside and outside the Tampa Bay area.

“At the moment we have 1,423 books in that collection, but that does not count the hundreds or so books that are in oversized collections,” Knight said. “When I started helping with the LGBT initiative in 2012, there were 400 books.”

As for student records and housing, both the Office of the Registrar and the Office of Housing and Residential Education provide services that can help transgender students. Since 2011, the Office of Housing can make arrangements for transgender identifying students to live with a friend of the same gender assigned at birth or in a single dorm, according to USF’s website.

“It’s going to be really positive for a lot of trans people, especially first-year students,” Taylor McCue, a transgender student who helped create the policy, said at the time. “It doesn’t mean the trans war has been won – you can’t win everything in one night. This is just part of the process for changing things on campus.”

The Registrar can work so that a student who is going through a documented gender change can have their name and gender-corrected on all USF documents.

As for other future improvements, Swiger said that USF should look into making some type of student center for LGBT students

“I personally think the next important step for USF to take in fostering a thriving queer community would be beginning the groundwork for an LGBT student center, somewhere where all students can feel safe and welcomed in order to study, relax, and hang out,” they said.

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