LGBTQA community evolves in Nebraska and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Multimedia story by Nick Gebhart, Julia Jackson, Jacy Lewis, Seth Olson, and Benjamin Schoenkin, NewsNetNebraska

Editor’s note: This year, NewsNetNebraska reporters are looking at diversity issues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and across Nebraska in a series of multimedia reports designed to promote greater awareness and understanding. The following report is one of our diversity stories. 

A UNL student dresses in Drag King for the Guys and Doll: Night of the Living Drag on October 30, 2015.

Guys and Doll: Night of the Living Drag is one of UNL’s annual gay pride events . Photo: Julia Jackson, NewsNetNebraska

It’s 2015. Gay marriage is legal. More pride events are held every year. Some presidential candidates are championing for LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and aromantic/asexual/allies/advocates) rights and equal opportunities. Other political candidates and elected officials clearly oppose LGBTQA rights.

How do members of the LGBTQA community at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the city of Lincoln and across Nebraska fit into the evolving conversation?

“She, her, hers.”

“He, him, his.”

“She, her, hers, he, him, his. Pronouns!”

The voices change as they make their way around the circle of about 20 students revealing each individual’s preferred name and pronouns, but the comfort in their voices is obvious. They’re not judged when they’re in this room.

Spectrum is a student organization at UNL geared toward all LGBTQA+ students and allies. The group starts meetings with this unique introduction to establish an atmosphere of acceptance for participants without the restrictions of a classroom where their name might be different.

Sophomore Tanner Reckling, treasurer of Spectrum UNL, emphasized the necessity of this kind of community for LGBTQA college students.

“When I was first joining college, it was important for me to have a social outlet for the queer community,” Reckling said. “I know I needed help when I first came here, so I know I’m not the only one. I think it’s important to have an organization like this to help other people out, too.”

Conservative Nebraska

It’s no surprise Nebraska has conservative tendencies. In 2013, Business Insider published an article which ranked Nebraska as America’s ninth most conservative state, checking in at 45.3 percent conservative.

In a state with a prominent conservative population, it’s important to recognize what traditional conservative mindsets mean for people who don’t identify themselves as conservatives. The video below features several Spectrum students who shared their sometimes difficult experiences about living in Nebraska.

Beyond UNL

Discriminatory experiences extend beyond college students in Nebraska. It’s an issue State Senator Adam Morfeld of northeast Lincoln is trying to tackle. Last session, Sen. Morfeld decided to stop discussion on a bill that would put workplace protections in place for people in Nebraska who identify as LGBTQ. He said the bill will come up in the next legislative session. For Morfeld, his bill, LB 586, is a no-brainer.

“This is about basic civil rights, basic human rights,” Morfeld said. “Also, it’s just bad business practice to discriminate against people and fire them for reasons that aren’t related to their performance.”

According to an article by the Lincoln Journal Star, Wisconsin, Iowa and several other states have already put similar protections in place. As Morfeld explains in the video below, it’s time for Nebraska to follow suit.

Treatment of LGBTQA students

Despite some meaningful strides that have been made over the last 40 years at UNL, the stigmas that some members of the LGBTQA community face still prevail. For college students, the prevailing atmosphere has a lot to do with the problem.

According to a 2009 UNL-funded study of perceptions of the campus climate for LGBTQA students, “The majority of LGBTQA students’ experiences with unfair treatment were more likely to come from other students (65%), rather than from faculty (14%). Students were also more likely to have hidden their identity from other students (64%), than from faculty (41%), although many students did not feel safe enough to be open with either faculty or other students.”

Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA+ resource center at UNL, spearheaded the study and recognizes UNL as a place of progressiveness when it comes to inclusivity of LGBTQA people in Nebraska. In the video below, Tetreault describes improvements she believes still need to be made.

See below: One of UNL’s gay pride events. Guys and Doll: Night of the Living Drag on October 30, 2015

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