By Janet Dake —
U of L ranks “Best of the Best” for LGBT campus life, according to the Campus Pride Index, an online resource that ranks colleges based on a variety of inclusion-based factors.
The website gave U of L five out of five stars. This broken down into a series of sub-categories, including LGBTQ policy inclusion, student life, counseling and health and campus safety.
What literally started in a closet 10 years ago, U of L’s LGBT Center has grown into a huge organization that sees thousands of students every year. The center’s founder and Executive Director Brian Buford has, and continues to be, a driving force behind much of the progress the university sees for its LGBT community.
Buford was also the first person in Kentucky to be paid to do LGBTQ work at a college. “Today we have seven staff positions and offices on both the Belknap and HSC campuses,” he said. “It’s just so inspiring to see how far we’ve come. I’m so proud to work for the university.”
Josie Herbet is a freshman at U of L this fall. She says that U of L’s LGBT inclusiveness was a major factor in her decision to come here. “I plan on going to events through the LGBT-center throughout the year,” said Herbet, who intends to do an individualized major about Human Sexuality.
Some events the LGBT Center puts on throughout the year include the annual PINK drag show, as well as their pride week celebration.
U of L is hailed as one of the most LGBT-friendly communities in the south, by the Campus Pride Index. But there were decades of steps that had to be taken to get the university to that point. Buford said, “Our policies and procedures all needed to reflect the spirit of inclusion, so we have updated them over the years.”
Some examples of this include partner benefits and transgender health insurance, which Buford says U of L was one of the first to participate in.
Another important step in creating a diverse and inclusive campus has been offering scholarships to LGBTQ students. “One targets students of color and is named for a long time activist in Kentucky who is transgender and a woman of color,” said Buford. “I think we may be the only school who can boast that.”
U of L is a rare exception in a state that does not typically advocate for LGBTQ students on a legislative level. More recently, Governor Matt Bevin signed Senate Bill 17. The Human Rights Campaign said the bill “would, among other things, allow student groups at colleges, universities and high schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.”
Because of it’s status as a pioneering force in LGBTQ inclusiveness, U of L has been reaching out beyond it’s own borders to educate others. According to Buford, in recent years the Center has mentored both the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University, which now have their own LGBT Centers with staff and programs.
For students that want to get more involved, the LGBTQ Center has staff in both their office on the Belknap Campus, as well as the Health Sciences Center.
Buford said, “Everyone is welcome, whether you identify as LGBT or not.”