How was the new name chosen?
The process was modeled after the Mosaic Center for Students of Color’s effort when they renamed from ALANA Student Center last year. National data, a literature review, four in-person community forums, an online survey, consultation with the LGBTQA Center Advisory Board, and informal stakeholder interviews were all used to gather input. Over 100 responses were received from students at all levels, alums, staff and faculty. In addition to broad representation from UVM’s queer and trans communities, many cisgender, heterosexual allies participated as well.
The suggestions and community feedback were reviewed by the Director with the help of a guiding committee composed of faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students from across campus. The Center is extremely grateful to everyone who participated.
What feedback did you receive, in a nutshell?
The feedback was overwhelmingly supportive of a name change. No responses indicated a desire for the name to stay the same and only a few concerns about having a new name were raised, such as making sure the change was well publicized. Several themes stood out clearly in the responses:
- Renaming the Center and losing the acronym is a great idea.
- When people think of the Center, they think of rainbows, inclusion & support.
- A new name should better convey a message of inclusion, such as by having a name that is less literal and more open to interpretation and broader meaning.
- Feelings about using the word “queer” in the name are strong and range from “best word ever” to “worst word ever,” and everything in between.
- The majority of respondents didn’t have a suggestion for what the new name should be or stated that they’d be happy with any new name as long as it wasn’t an acronym.
- Respondents were grateful to the LGBTQA Center for being open to evolving and for having a community-engaged process.
Why was renaming the Center important?
Language around gender and sexual identity has changed tremendously in the twenty years since the Center was founded. At that time, in 1999, the Center was known as the Office for Services to People who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Allies (LGBTQA) and there was debate even then as to whether an acronym was a suitable name.
The Office was referred to as LGBTQA Services and/or LGBT Services until around 2010 when the name changed to LGBTQA Center. Over the years the letters and what they stand for have changed informally, such as adding an extra Q for “Queer” and the A standing for “Asexual” rather than “Ally,” but the continued use of an acronym has been imperfect and a source of tension. (continued on other side)
LGBTQA Center staff have received feedback for years, from students especially, about the limitations of using an acronym for a name and the lack of inclusion it conveys for communities and identities that are not named. As queer and trans communities have grown and diversified, this diversity is increasingly lacking from the acronym. We felt it was time to evolve and had the full support of the University administration.
How are similar offices at other schools named?
As part of our process, we started with a literature review to better understand trends on other campuses. A report compiled by The Consortium of LGBT Professionals in Higher Education on naming trends for LGBT Centers was identified as an important reference. According to the report, there is a nation-wide trend away from the use of acronyms in Center names and toward something more descriptive of the services provided, audience served, or host institution’s particular identity (such as naming the Center after an individual).
What about the word “queer”?
We recognize that the word queer has a complex history. One piece of this history is the use of the word as a slur, intended to cause harm. Queer also has a long, rich history as a term of re-empowerment by the LGBTQ+ community, a source of pride for many who self-identify as queer, and as an inclusive, unifying term that recognizes that many complex identities make up the LGBTQ+ (and many other identities) community.
Opinions about the word queer in the feedback we gathered represented nearly every point of view imaginable; from super in-favor of its use, to ultra-opposed, indifferent and everything in between. In recognition of the varied opinions among the communities we serve, we chose not to use queer in our name. However, we often do use queer intentionally when talking about our work and our community for many reasons, including:
- To refer collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and queer communities.
- As an umbrella term that includes not only the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people of ‘LGBT,’ but also those whose identities fall in between or expand beyond those categories, such as nonbinary, pansexual, and asexual people, to name just a few.
- In recognition of the fact that the word queer reaches across lines of race, ethnicity, gender and gender expression, class, religion, sexuality and sexual identity, and nationality in ways that the mainstream interpretation of the LGBT acronym does not.
What other names did you consider?
The majority of people we talked to didn’t have a suggestion for a new name. Among those who did, Gender and Sexuality Center, or a variation of thereof, was common. We felt that this name has the potential to create too much confusion with the Women’s Center at UVM and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program at UVM to make sense for us. Pride Center was also suggested, but there is already an LGBT community organization in Burlington with a similar name and it could be difficult to distinguish between the two if we were to share a name.