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Myatt Center Leads ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Courageous Conversation at University

As part of a recent panel discussion, members of the University community came together to discuss recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation – including what has become known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida – as well as how it would impact gender identity and sexual orientation.

March 16, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Flags at the University of New Haven.

Ian Shick, MS, (pronouns they/them/theirs), that believes language is important, particularly when it comes to discussing one’s identity. They are committed to continuing to ensure that all Chargers feel safe being who they are at the University and that they experience a sense of belonging as Chargers.

Shick, assistant director of LGBTQ+ resources for the University’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, recently spoke as part of a panel discussion titled, “Don’t Say Gay.” It was held as part of the Courageous Conversation series hosted by the Myatt Center and the Dean of Students Office.

“Talking about identities as plain facts, explaining that these identities exist rather than taking up arguments about them, is critical,” said Shick. “Stating that one’s identity is valid and welcome on this campus can go a long way.”

The discussion was focused on recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Texas and Florida and the impact it could have on sexual orientation and gender identity, including on members of the University community.

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has already been passed by both the state’s Senate and House. The bill, which would go into effect on July 1 if passed, would limit what students in kindergarten through grade 3 could be taught in the classroom about sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as lessons that are deemed not “age-appropriate or developmentally” appropriate” for students.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner stating that gender-affirming medical treatments constitute child abuse and directing the agency to investigate any reports of the procedures.

Panelists sitting behind a desk.
Faculty and staff spoke to members of the University community as part of the panel discussion.
‘A lot of systems already in place’

The panel discussion was an opportunity for Chargers to learn more about the legislation and decisions made by various states that negatively impact members of the LGBTQ+ community, including recent bans on trans students’ participation in sports – something that has already happened in states such as Indiana and Iowa.

“At the University, we need to make sure we talk about what it means to be part of the community,” said Carrie Robinson, MS, director of the Myatt Center. “If you can’t live up to those standards, you don’t deserve to be a part of this community. We need to enter those difficult conversations about what it means to be a Charger, what it means to be part of this community. We do that in the classroom, and we need to do that outside the classroom as well.”

Recognizing that nearly 150 students hail from Florida and another approximately four dozen from Texas, panelists acknowledged the impact the decisions in those states in particular can have on Chargers – now and in the future. Committed to fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) on campus, they discussed their role as educators in supporting students.

“I think it’s really important that all of us understand all the resources available to the LGBTQ+ community that already exist on campus,” said Ric Baker, senior associate dean of students. “We have a lot of systems already in place, and I hope we continue to develop an intersectionality approach. These conversations are difficult, and I hope that as we come out of the pandemic, we’ll return to more in-person participation in these discussions.”

A screenshot from the presentation with an overview of the legislation.
The conversation included an overview of current legislation in other states.
‘Conversations we need to continue to have’

Robinson stressed the importance of also supporting faculty and staff members who identify as LGBTQ+. They have an opportunity, the panelists said, to support students in a particularly meaningful way.

“Being out is really important,” said Patrick McGrady, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology. “If you’re able to, I think it means a lot to our students and colleagues when we can use language that identifies you as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I think that can be very impactful – especially for students in the classroom who are unsure of how to articulate that. If you’re able to be out at work, do it.”

An alum who attended the panel agreed with Dr. McGrady: “Knowing I had professors who identified similarly to myself were empowering and comforting.”

Those participating in the event also discussed important steps that everyone can take to foster DEIB in the University community. They suggested, for example, that individuals share their preferred pronouns to make language easier for everyone, and they encourage establishing more safe spaces, and promote the importance of resources at the University such as the Myatt Center.

Emphasizing the importance of continuing these discussions – including at the next Courageous Conversation event next month that will focus on critical race theory – panelists urged all members of the University community to continue the dialogue while offering support to one another.

“These are conversations we need to continue to have,” said Robinson. “With LGBTQ+ people being further closeted with the pandemic, mental health challenges and suicide risk are high. This needs to be at the forefront of our minds.”

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