Duke LGBT center receives new name, space for fall semester

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 10:09 PM

Duke’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center will start the fall semester with a different name and a new office, changes that director Janie Long says are the next steps in growing its progressive footprint on campus.

As of Aug. 1, the Duke Center for LGBT Life will be known as the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and the staff will set up shop at the front of the remodeled Bryan Center.

The center is currently housed in the basement of the West Union Building. As Long opened the main door to the old center and walked out into the afternoon sunlight, she pointed up at the “The Center for LGBT Life Welcomes You” banner and said this was the first year the bright banner was on display.

“It used to be nobody was comfortable using that (front) door,” Long said.

But, as she said, the times, they are a-changin’. She put together a study group of more than 20 undergraduates, graduates, faculty and alum to talk about the future of the LGBT center, and she said she received an overwhelming response.

“Don’t put us back underground, out of sight, out of mind, in a closet,” they’d say. Long paused, then added, “In another closet.”

The center has expanded and gathered more support since the first unstaffed variation opened in 1994. Long became the center’s new director in 2006, and she said a year later, Duke held its first campuswide “Coming Out Day” in the plaza and passed out “Love=Love” T-shirts.

In the Bryan Center, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity will have more office space with natural light. Big floor-to-ceiling windows will overlook an outdoor patio and campus greenery. The center also will be the first office on the right as students enter the building.

The staff plans to be settled into the new space by the beginning of the fall semester, and Long said she stops by the construction site every day to check on the painting process and put in her 2 cents’ about fabric swatches.

Long said along with now serving students, faculty and staff above ground, the name change will be more inclusive for people who don’t fit themselves into the LGBT mold. People now identify themselves as intersex, ally, pansexual, straight, asexual, queer, demisexual, genderqueer, and questioning, among others.

“Young people today identify in many ways,” she said. “We try to help them be who they are and feel affirmed and welcome of who they are.”

The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity is organizing a grand opening during homecoming week, on Sept. 27. The grand opening will be a day before thousands flock to the N.C. Pride Parade on Duke’s campus.

Long said she has seen students during challenging times, when parents have threatened to kick their children out of the house or told them to “go get fixed,” and she has seen their moments of pride and self-acceptance, from rainbow flags being displayed from dorm room windows to Duke seniors participating in Lavender Graduation, a special end-of-semester graduation ceremony reserved for supporters of the center.

“I think there’s a real feeling of jubilation, if you will,” Long said about the changes this year. “It’s an affirmation. It’s an affirmation of how far the students have come.”