fbpx

Pitt LGBTQ Task Force Launches Report, Petition Calling For Dedicated Center and Resources

Photo credit Alan Charness, CC BY 2.0

High rates of LGBTQ sexual assault, no centralized resources, and the only R1 University without a dedicated space for LGBTQ students; these are some of the many troubling conditions at the University of Pittsburgh detailed in a first-of-its-kind report by the Pitt LGBTQ Task Force. The report’s goal is to propose steps for the Pitt administration to better support the LGBTQ community. With the release of the report, the task force is asking for community support in the form of a petition as they call for a commitment from University leadership.

Tyler Viljaste, former Vice President of Pitt student government and creator of the LGBTQ Task Force, told of the harrowing journey that led to this report. “This is the work of not just the people who were a part of this task force, but the decades of work that has been done by the broader LGBTQ community [at Pitt],” said Viljaste. “This has been a long time coming.”

As a sophomore, Viljaste campaigned on the platform of bringing an LGBTQ center and better resources for LGBTQ students to Pitt. After winning the seat, the queer undergrad acted on this promise and assembled the Pitt LGBTQ Task Force, a group of over 80 volunteer students, faculty, and staff dedicated to exploring a variety of issues facing the Pitt LGBTQ community. They worked tirelessly on a 43-page report that illustrated a strong need for more administrative support for the LGBTQ community at Pitt, including an LGBTQ center.

The report leads with the fact that Pitt is the only R1 university (a top research classification for universities) out of 131 institutions to not have a dedicated space for LGBTQ students. Additionally, according to a 2019 report on sexual assault and misconduct, sexual assault rates for LGBTQ students at Pitt were much higher than the rates for heterosexual/cisgender students. Another diversity and inclusion report found that LGBTQ students at the university were especially dissatisfied with campus resources when compared to their heterosexual/cisgender peers and the resources available to them. These statistics were all the more troubling when combined with testimonials that described a history of the administration referring LGBTQ students facing issues to overworked and unpaid student groups.

No one knew this better than Drew Medvid, a member of the Pitt LGBTQ Task Force. Medvid had seen it all as a recent student, alumnus, and faculty member in the African Studies Department. He says being in various roles on campus has given him unique insight into how the university treats LGBTQ people in different groups.

Medvid, who is trans, hit major roadblocks at Pitt when dealing with unsupportive faculty who refused to use correct pronouns for him and his friends. “I experienced discrimination a number of times at Pitt, and at one point I was just really fed up,” said Medvid. “When I reported [the discrimination], it just wasn’t taken seriously.”

Medvid took his complaints all the way to the Dean of Students and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion. He said that even though they expressed genuine concern for his problems, ultimately nothing happened to address these issues. “It just got swept under the rug even if they did care,” he explained.

As Viljaste puts it, the report was created to remedy this exact problem. “What we want to do is create mechanisms for institutional accountability,” stated Viljaste. He explains that that’s why the report doesn’t just highlight the need for change but offers proposals for correcting these problems and a timeline for implementation.

The biggest two proposals, in terms of Pitt’s commitment, are the creation of a physical LGBTQ center and the hiring of at least two staff members. Along with a physical space, there is also a proposal for an official Pitt web page to centralize resources for the LGBTQ community. These proposals would provide critical space, both physical and digital, for Pitt’s LGBTQ community and, with staff hires, provide an outlet for anyone facing discrimination at the university to be heard.

The other three proposals in the report identify existing campus services that need improvement including counseling, student, faculty, and staff services. The proposals emphasize working with LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff to create meaningful service offerings. The report also recognizes the need for collaboration with existing BIPOC student groups to center intersectional LGBTQ communities.

The biggest hurdle both Medvid and Viljaste described is getting the Pitt administration to commit after years of these issues being put on the back burner. Both state they need help from the broader Pittsburgh and national communities to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ Pitt students, sign the petition, and write to the university.

“We are one of the top research institutions in the country” Viljaste pointed out. “If we can attract more [LGBTQIA] talent, if we can attract more attention to LGBTQIA issues, and we can do more research … It doesn’t need to be said how much that could impact LGBTQIA resources on a national scale.”

An email template attached to the petition is available for signers to e-mail select administrators and voice any concerns they may have. The task force is also looking for organizational support from community organizations and advocacy groups that support these proposals.

Read the full report below:

2021-Report-on-the-Status-of-LGBTQIA-Resources-at-the-University-of-Pittsburgh

Hansen Bursic
Hansen Bursic (he/him) is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and LGBTQ+ activist. His work for QBurgh has won a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. Bursic's film work has screened all over the world from Frameline, the world's oldest and most prestigious LGBTQ+ film festival, to Reel Q here in Pittsburgh. His writing has been seen in online publications such as CinéSPEAK and QueerPGH. To learn more about Bursic's work, visit his InstagramFacebookTwitter, or his website.