When UC Santa Barbara students, faculty and staff transferred to an online learning format, student resource centers like the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity had concerns over how to continue providing support to fellow LGBTQIA+ students from a distance. Now, however, with a calendar full of events and programs for the virtual fall quarter and beyond, the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) waits with open arms.
“I think for right now, given that we are in this remote environment, we are really trying to build and foster the vibrant LGBTQIA+ community that we would have if we were all on campus,” LGBT Resources Director Craig Leets said in an interview with the Nexus.
The RCSGD began in the fall of 1999, when students advocated for Chancellor Henry T. Yang to approve a department that would be specifically for LGBTQIA+ students, Leets said. Originally named the Queer Resource Center, it has since then changed to the RCSGD and became the hub of LGBTQIA+ life at UCSB, he continued.
“We want to ensure that LGBTQIA+ students, faculty and staff are represented on campus, all while addressing challenges and barriers that exist on campus within the community,” Leets said. “So really, we are trying to make a more welcoming campus for LGBTQIA+ people.”
For winter quarter, weekly Zoom events range from topics including QTPOC, Two Spirit and transgender empowerment, according to RCSGD Outreach Coordinator Joey Medina. Additionally, there is a Bi Us for Us Discussion Group that will meet on the second Monday of every month starting in winter quarter and aims to support those who identify as or are questioning that they are bisexual, according to Medina.
Other recurring events include IdentiTEAS — where almost every other Wednesday, participants can gather and discuss their sexual identities; this event would normally be held in person while members drank tea, but Leets said that the same spirit lives on in online meetings.
From being in the process of coming out to identifying as non-binary to being a racial minority, staff like Medina hope that IdentiTEAS can provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students from all walks of life to express themselves and meet those who have a similar identity.
“During these meetings, we bring together a group of people with a distinct identity and discuss how it feels to be that identity in a queer space,” Medina said. “We have had this for about two years, and we love them and people seem to love them as well.”
Medina said that the IdentiTEAS discussions move as a conversation shared among the group, but he still keeps some talking points handy in case the conversation is not readily flowing. However, even in situations where participants may not know each other, Medina said that everyone becomes comfortable quickly and the discussion becomes more lively.
“I was lucky enough to have a really great group, with a lot of queer and trans people of color,” Medina said. “As a host, I kind of just go in just hoping that people can have a conversation about their identity and what it can mean.”
The RCSGD is also hosting a set of racial justice spaces this quarter. Amidst the current climate of racial injustice, Leets explained how the RCSGD recognizes that anti-Blackness and racism exists within the LGBTQIA+ community as well, and he hopes to tackle these systemic issues through web events.
“Because we are queer and trans, [this] does not mean that we are not also guilty of being racist or anti-Black or even upholding white supremacy,” Leets said.
This year, the RCSGD will be offering three different spaces on a regular basis: one for Black LGBTQIA+ people, another for non-Black LGBTQIA+ people of color and one for white LGBTQIA+ people.
According to Leets, the space for Black LGBTQIA+ people will be focused on spreading joy and encouraging healing. The second space for non-Black LGBTQIA+ people of color will focus on discussing racism, as Leets explained that non-Black people of color can also participate in anti-Blackness. Finally, the third space for white LGBTQIA+ people, which Leets personally will run, will focus on engaging participants in discussing how they may be upholding white supremacy.
“We will be working with students to make sure that we are all engaging in the ongoing work against anti-Blackness, racism and white supremacy,” Leets said.
The RCSGD will also be running an LGBTQ Mentoring Program this quarter, in which undergraduate students can be paired with LGBTQIA+ identified faculty, staff and graduate students, Medina said. Medina hopes that these relationships will provide emotional support for the undergraduate students as well as professional tips on resume building, making connections and networking.
“I myself had an amazing mentor, and it was a really [great] opportunity to learn about the experience of an older queer person,” Medina said.
This quarter, COVID-19 has raised concerns for the RCSGD about how to connect with UCSB’s LGBTQIA+ community. Since students must now attend the RCSGD’s events online or from their childhood homes, Medina said he worried that students may have a hard time expressing themselves during meetings.
“So one thing we have had to work on is not only providing programming that works online, but also giving students the avenue to go to our events,” Medina said. “We know that a lot of kids might be open about their sexuality at school, but not open at home.”
To overcome this challenge, the RCSGD has worked on ways for students who cannot openly discuss their identities at home to still engage with the meetings. For instance, Medina explained that the RCSGD has worked on agreements where participants can come to Zoom calls with their cameras off and text through the chat to still be involved.
“We know that right now, a lot of queer students are at home, which might not be the best spaces for them,” Medina said. “When our community hurts, we hurt because we do our best to serve the community.”
The RCSGD staff hopes to continue its goal of being an inclusive, safe space for students during the pandemic and beyond and serve as a hub for students who need support or for those who want to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community, according to Leets.
“I hope that we can be the first stop in your journey of getting what you need from the university,” Leet said. “UCSB is huge, with so many places to go to, but what we want is for LGBTQIA+ students to get connected to us and get the resources that they need to become successful.”