Well decorated, but still a closet : the lived experiences of LGBT center professionals in higher education

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2021-07-07

Authors

Lamb, Candace Marie

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Abstract

The empirical research on staff members in LGBT centers within higher education is sparse. This dissertation contributes to the literature on this population by examining the experiences of LGBTQ+ staff members of LGBT centers to critically analyze how these employees experience performing identity work within the broader context of higher education, a traditionally heterogendered institution. This study utilized a critical narrative analysis to examine the lived experiences of 13 LGBTQ+ professionals working in and for campus LGBT centers at colleges and universities. The guiding research questions for this study are: How do LGBTQ+ staff members in LGBT centers in higher education describe their experiences of working in a queer space within a heteronormative macro environment? How do LGBTQ+ staff members who work for LGBT centers within higher education reify and/or resist homonormativity in their work contexts? Several findings emerged. For many participants, the decision to do LGBTQ+ diversity work stemmed from a desire to help others in the LGBTQ+ community, often because of their own experiences. Over time, they became frustrated by lack of support from campus administrators and felt that their work was profoundly misunderstood or seen as antagonistic to the larger heterogendered institutional culture. While they had been charged with development of a positive campus climate for the LGBTQ+ community, doing so meant facing discrimination and being misunderstood by campus administrators. These experiences culminated in struggles with mental health and considerations of leaving the field entirely. Higher education must decide if it is committed to a cultural shift away from the traditionally heterogendered institution. This would mean intentionally educating faculty, staff, and students on the LGBTQ+ community and moving away from hetero-and cisnormativity as default states. It is simply not enough to hire a person or a small staff who is wholly responsible for representing the entirety of a community that is broad and complex. It is not enough to make trainings available to faculty members who refuse to use correct names and pronouns or even diversify their syllabi to include diverse voices when faculty members are not then held accountable through policy development.

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