UT Austin’s Gender and Sexuality Center Takes Care of Young Adults

Queer students find sanctuary and support at the GSC

Inside the GSC, Elsen hopes every queer student finds a sense of community to pass on to others (Photo by Jana Birchum)
“Our first space was a converted closet,” says Liz Elsen, referring to the Gender and Sexuality Center at UT Austin. She adds, laughing, “The irony is not lost on us.”

More than 10 years and a few moves across campus later, Elsen – who joined the GSC staff six years ago and is now the director – has watched the center evolve into the university’s leading resource for students to explore sexuality and gender. Throughout the school year, students come to the GSC for just about anything: student groups, a lending library, HIV testing, or weekly events like the women of color discussion group and “Feminist Friday.”

Programs and resources abound. Elsen emphasizes: “You never need to have a specific reason to come to the GSC.” Some students come every day from orientation through graduation, while others stop by from once a week to once a month. At its core, the GSC is a place where students can visit – as often or as little as they need to – to make connections with other students and staff, regardless if it’s about gender or sexuality.

“When [students] get to the GSC,” says Elsen, “they can stop having to be the perfect version of themselves.” Students are able to talk about issues with school or their personal lives, like homework woes or difficulty managing stress. “Those are definitely conversations that happen in the space.”

The GSC aims to foster dialogue not only within the center but also outside of it, particularly with their year-long Peers for Pride program. In the fall semester, students learn about LGBTQ oppression and how it’s “interconnected with racism, classism, and ableism” and then “facilitate performance-based workshops” the following spring. As Elsen sees it, the benefits of students participating in the program are threefold. She explains, “Students can think and talk about what a thriving queer community looks like while getting academic credit and getting a chance to [develop] facilitation skills.”

For some students, their experience with Peers for Pride stays with them long after they leave the program. (Elsen notes, “One of them actually does all of the LGBTQ training for the Peace Corps now.”) But for every student that walks into the GSC, Elsen hopes they find a sense of community, one that they can hopefully take away. “My goal is that [the GSC] is a place where we learn together about all of our intersecting identities,” she says. And when graduation’s come and gone, students can take what they’ve learned at the GSC “about the world and themselves and go on to create other communities for other folks – who might be more marginalized than them – so they can feel comfort in a world that doesn’t always welcome us.”

For more on how Austin's qmmunity shows up for one another, see this week's cover story "Taking Care of Our Own."

And for our back-to-school guide for LGBTQ college students (including ACC, St. Edward's, and UT-Austin), see "Queers on Campus."

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Pride 2018, Gender and Sexuality Center, UT Austin, Liz Elsen

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