LGBTQ+ students, allies find home in LLC


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Lothrop Hall houses the 14 students in Pitt’s Gender and Sexuality LLC.

By Neena Hagen, Staff Writer

Pitt is home to a plethora of organizations that foster an atmosphere of acceptance for LGBTQ+ students — Rainbow Alliance and oSTEM to name a couple. But until fall of 2018, none of these organizations offered living accommodations to students.

Now, the Gender and Sexuality LLC, which occupies half of the 12th floor of Lothrop, houses 14 primarily first-year LGBTQ+ students in single dorms and boasts the only gender-neutral communal bathroom on Pitt’s campus. It’s a safe space that, according to RA Ryan Ferrante, a sophomore biology major, was badly needed for Pitt’s sizable LGBTQ+ community.

“Leaving home for the first time can be stressful,” Ferrante said. “But for LGBTQ+ students, piling on the added weight of wondering if you’ll fit in … or if the college community will accept you for who you are often makes the transition a lot harder.”

At Pitt, applying to the Gender and Sexuality LLC works the same as for any other LLC. The process is contained within the housing application — all students must do is write a brief essay and fill out a questionnaire detailing their housing preferences. According to Ferrante, the LLC is open to anyone who’s dedicated to maintaining a supportive environment — not just LGBTQ+ students.

To ensure that the LLC fosters an inclusive atmosphere, members take part in many LGBTQ+-themed activities together. Recently, the group embarked on a short excursion to the Andy Warhol museum to view Warhol’s paintings of drag queens and transgender women — all of whom remained anonymous until their names were dug up and revealed in August 2018.

“It’s really heartening for us to see ourselves represented in everyday art and culture. It really contributes to our sense of belonging in the LLC,” Ferrante said. “Educational movies … like ‘Before Stonewall’ and ‘After Stonewall’ that teach us about the history of our struggle for civil rights are also on the lineup.”

The LLC takes full advantage of its learning component, as students in the LLC have the opportunity to take a one-credit course on LGBTQ+ communities taught by professor Julie Beaulieu. The course not only allows students to discuss sensitive topics — like prejudice they may face in their everyday lives — but also educates students about oppressive power structures and explores the intersections between sexuality and other identities.

“Education is key to social and political progress for historically marginalized people,” Beaulieu said.

According to Danielle Jakob, a sophomore bio-med major and the only non-LGBTQ+ member of the LLC, the class has been integral in allowing her to confront her own prejudices and become a more active and understanding ally.

“In class discussions, I often feel like the oppressor being the only straight cis person,” Jakob said. “It’s very sobering to hear my peers talk about what they go through on a daily basis because I can’t fully understand … but I can help dismantle the system that perpetuates prejudice.”

Many discussions that take place in the LLC involve members sharing their experiences facing discrimination throughout campus, according to Jakob. The prejudice often isn’t overt, but it manifests itself pretty frequently.

“There seem so be so many instances where trans members are misgendered,” Jakob said. “Recently one of our trans members got a dirty look for being in the ‘wrong’ bathroom.”

Talking through those issues remains one of the most emotionally challenging aspects of being an RA for the LLC, but Ferrante embraces the responsibility with open arms.

“I signed up to be the RA for this LLC so I could provide support to queer people who need it,” Ferrante said. “Discrimination won’t fix itself, but we can bandage the wounds … by supporting each other within the community.”

But according to Beaulieu, larger, more sweeping initiatives at Pitt are needed to grow and better include the LGBTQ+ community.

“I would like to see more engagement with Pitt’s other programs, including events or partnerships with PQP [Pitt Queer Professionals], Pitt’s LGBTQ+ faculty and staff affinity group, as well as community engagement with local artists, activists and academics,” Beaulieu said. “These forms of mentorship are incredibly valuable given that we, as LGBTQ+ people, do not always have access to queer mentors or elders.”

Jakob firmly believes more allies should join the LLC.

“It’s about dismantling … a heteronormative-, gender-binary-supporting mentality that allows prejudice to persist,” she said. “I don’t need to be LGBTQ+ to participate in that … in fact, I think everyone at Pitt, regardless of their gender and sexuality, should participate in inclusiveness training.”

But to Ferrante, until these large scale changes become a reality, raising a greater awareness of the LLC throughout Pitt is a good start.

“The concept of a gender and sexuality LLC is pretty new at most colleges, including Pitt,” Ferrante said. “But I think spreading the word is a crucial first step to growing the LLC … Who knows? Maybe we can even fill a whole floor of Lothrop next year.”