By: Amber Green
In 2012 the University of North Florida newspaper, the Spinnaker, featured an article focused on the first gender-neutral housing program started in Florida. In the article, Paul Riel, former director of student housing, and several students were quoted as being in opposition to the idea of gender-neutral housing. Now, only three short years later, a gender-neutral housing program has launched in time for UNF’s 2015 Fall semester.
After more than five years of advocacy for the Gender Inclusive Housing Experience program (GIHE), and the upkeep of one of only two full-time LGBT resource centers among Florida universities, UNF has now brought its new housing program to the forefront of its fall changes. The LGBT Resource Center played a large role in ensuring GIHE was well equipped to foster a safe community for all those interested in joining.
“I serve on an advisory committee that assisted with setting the guidelines, creating those FAQ’s, and the actual information and helping out with language. We did a lot of research and support with creating the initial proposal…we had to convince our vice president of student affairs and some of the upper-level leaders that this was a thing that was going to work,” said Kaitlin Legg, assistant director at the LGBT Resource Center.
The GIHE program has a clear mission that focuses on creating positive spaces for all students, especially those within the LGBTQ community. It also provides an educational experience for those who are not familiar with terms like gender identity or transgender. “It’s an experience that contributes to cultural diversity on campus,” Legg said. The GIHE community also holds a family dinner night once a month that gives members a chance to network with others. Legg mentions that students in the program will be encouraged to be involved with the LGBTQ resource center in some way–whether it’s volunteering for events or working at the center.
UNF has created a website that extensively covers what the program entails and how to join. The housing locations for GIHE can be found integrated within The Fountains, which is also home to many other students who are not in GIHE. The students within the program share a suite–fitting 4 students each–to establish an environment that lends itself to inclusivity and comfort.
The new program’s capacity is held at 8 this semester for reasons regarding the uncertainty of how many students would be interested in joining. “I would imagine that we’ll probably double it by next year,” Legg said. As the awareness that GIHE is now an option increases, she says several students have begun to express interest in joining the community as the semester goes on.
Haiden Baier, an upperclassmen at UNF, is a current member of GIHE. Baier has recently come out as transgender and has begun hormone replacement therapy. “I think the program provides a safe haven for LGBT students. Only one person in the program does not identify as anywhere on the transgender spectrum but he knows a lot about it and the issues revolving around it and it helps. It’s nice to be able to come home and actually relax and be yourself rather than having to put on a different face to make your roommates more comfortable,” said Baier.
“Before we had this program, there were transgender students living in spaces that didn’t match their gender and would constantly be uncomfortable. I have known a few students who have been paired with a roommate that just believed transgender people don’t exist, and if they do they are some kind of creature that shouldn’t, and that’s not something anyone would want to come home to. I feel this program can actually help save lives. Almost half of all transgender people will attempt or actually succeed in committing suicide. I’m one of those and I feel that if this program was in my life sooner I would not have had as many attempts as I have,” said Baier.