LGBTQ+ rights are increasingly under attack in the United States.
Nearly 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation have been introduced by various state legislators in the United States in the first half of 2023. This number is already more than double the number of these types of laws proposed in all of 2022, more than five times the number in 2020, and more than ten times the number proposed in 2018.1 Bills have been introduced in nearly every state, including Maryland.2
According to CNN.com, “Education and health care-related bills, in particular, are flooding in at unprecedented levels. Along with a renewed push to ban access to gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, there has been a heavy focus on regulating curriculum in public schools, including discussions around gender identity and sexuality.”
While many of the education-focused bills target K–12 education, state legislators have also introduced dozens of bills targeting college and university initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their states. To date, 34 bills have been introduced—nearly all of them within the past year.3 Of those 34, two have final legislative approval and three have been signed into law.
These anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-DEI laws are being proposed at a time when the United States is also seeing a significant rise in hate crimes. The environment for LGBTQ+ people has become so tumultuous and frightening that some students are changing their college plans to rule out college and universities in states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies have been proposed.
Civil and human rights groups are fighting back against these attacks. The ACLU, GLAAD, and other groups are working to prevent anti-LGBTQ+ bills from advancing. LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies are working together to fight for supportive, inclusive communities.
UMGC President Gregory Fowler, PhD
UMGC Leadership Supports the LGBTQ+ Community
At UMGC, we acknowledge the challenges LGBTQ+ communities are facing and want to amplify the university’s commitment to supporting them. It is against this backdrop that we want to recognize our students and show them that they are valued, they are cared for, and that we are here for them. That is our message not only during Pride Month but all year long.
“We embrace and celebrate our learners who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and stand with them in support of a world marked by respect, inclusivity, and opportunity for all people,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler, PhD.
Blair Hayes, PhD, ombudsman, vice president and chief diversity officer at UMGC, said the university works hard to ensure it is shedding light on the experiences its community members are having—whether inside or outside of their university.
“We are going to continue to be a place that is inclusive and welcoming and continues to allow people to bring their whole selves forward,” Hayes said. “There will not be a time when someone has to leave a part of their personal social identity to be welcome at UMGC.”
UMGC Students Building a More Inclusive Community
Members of the university’s LGBTQ+ Student Association want members of the LGBTQ+ community to know that they are not alone, especially in light of the recent legislative landscape.
“LGBTQ+ people are often left out of spaces and conversations, misrepresented and underrepresented in society and the media, and are even ostracized, harmed, and victimized for just simply existing,” said Gary Merryman, president of the group. “Our student group offers a safe and supportive space where LGBTQ+ students can connect, share experiences, and find a sense of belonging.”
Merryman said that LGBTQ+ students often face challenges people may not think about.
“These involve bullying and discrimination, social exclusion, increased mental health concerns, lack of visibility in research, curricula and other campus activities, access to gender-affirming and other supportive resources, misgendering and deadnaming, and other intersectional challenges for those who belong to marginalized groups such as racial and ethnic minorities and those with disabilities,” he said.
While the group is relatively new, members are already actively working toward creating a more inclusive university environment by advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, educating the community about LGBTQ+ issues, and fostering allyship and understanding.
“We organize a variety of social and educational events throughout the year,” Merryman said. “These events provide opportunities for networking, sharing resources, and building meaningful connections within the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.”
The group also wants to help educate and inform the broader UMGC community about how they can join together in the spirit of activism, allyship, community, education, and professional development.
“Education helps challenge stereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences,” Merryman said. “It promotes understanding and empathy by providing accurate information and dispelling myths. Education also raises awareness about the humanity of LGBTQ+ people and reduces fear and confusion that often lead to discrimination, hate, and violence against people in our community.”
Inclusion Networks Provide Support for Faculty and Staff
UMGC is also launching an inclusion network for LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff and their allies. Hayes said the university’s inclusion networks are great places to find people who share similar experiences and allows them to support one another throughout their careers at UMGC.
“It’s a great place to build a network and find opportunities for professional development, find connections beyond your teams, and to contribute to the understanding of the unique experience of the groups you may be a part of,” he said.
The networks also provide faculty and staff with a way to help shape the university, he said.
“When you lend your voice to those groups, it allows us to ensure we are serving you in the best way possible," he said.
UMGC staff member Karolina Nash, who is leading the effort to establish the LGBTQIA+ inclusion network, said the group’s goal is to create a welcoming space for others in the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies to network and develop professionally.
“We also aim to curate resources for those who may need help or just want to learn more about the community and how they can be a good ally,” she said.
Nash said that she had been wanting to be more involved in promoting safe spaces, best practices, and educating others on LGBTQIA+ issues for a long time and that the idea came to her when she was attending one of the university’s Diversity Roundtables.
“Honestly, being out and open is very new to me, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve wanted and tried to be so involved,” she said. “Not having been totally open about my orientation—keeping it bottled up—left me feeling out of sorts. It took me a while to realize it. I also want to make sure that others feel safe being out and honest, if they want to be so. I also want others, allies, to understand more about the community so they can help create a welcoming environment.”
Nash said she is looking forward to working with the other inclusion networks at UMGC to ensure everyone has a voice that is heard. Faculty and staff members interested in joining the network can email email@example.com.
How to Report Discrimination at UMGC
In the state of Maryland, it is illegal to discriminate against a person based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.4 UMGC’s official non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy reflects the state and university’s commitment to upholding this law. It establishes that “programs, activities and facilities will be available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, creed, marital status, age, national origin, ancestry, political affiliation, mental or physical disability, genetic information, veteran status, or any other legally protected class.”
The university’s Office of Diversity and Equity handles reports of discrimination. Students, staff, and faculty members can report incidents of discrimination by contacting the Fair Practices Officer within the Office of Diversity and Equity by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 301-985-7955. UMGC forbids retaliation for reporting discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing a discriminatory act, practice, or policy.
“We always encourage anyone who sees something or experiences something that may be discriminatory to report it to the Fair Practices Office,” Hayes said. “Our goal is to protect not just the university but everyone in the university against anything that violates policy but also to protect each other and be good global citizens.”