Morgantown’s Safe Zones

By: Ashley DeNardo

The LGBTQ community in the United States is not underground, nor should it be. In West Virginia, however, gay rights is still a sensitive issue. Even here in Morgantown, LGBTQ culture is still not quite in the eye of the mainstream. For instance, there is only one alternative club in Morgantown.

Even though same-sex marriage has been legal here since 2014 and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt, both the legal and social treatment of members of the gay community still needs a lot of improvement. There are no statewide protections against discrimination, and only five cities have anti-discrimination ordinances.

In the ongoing battle for acceptance and understanding, Morgantown, and especially West Virginia University, has some resources for those seeking emotional support, political voice or even just new like-minded friends.

Spectrum is WVU’s student organization not only for LGBTQ students, but also for “everyone within the orientation spectrum,” according to its website. They meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Mountainlair.

The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at WVU has a Commission for LGBTQ Equity. The commission aims to improve the social climate in the local community and to improve the campus culture, allowing LGBTQ students to feel safe and equal.

Just this January, improvements were made on campus with new gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Along with the new LGBTQ Center, the commission is also hosting the third annual Lavender Graduation event on May 1. This ceremony celebrates WVU’s graduating LGBTQ students. Part of the commission’s job is to recognize and highlight the achievements of students in order to promote diversity, and this event will surely succeed in that.

Next fall, there will be a new gender-inclusive housing community, True Colors. This type of housing will allow co-ed roommates and a supportive atmosphere for all gender expressions and sexual orientations. Students can learn how to apply for this community here.

WVU OUTlaw is a legal group on campus. The group is open to all students and focuses on advocacy for gay rights. In addition to the strictly legal aspects of the organization, it also focuses on bridging the gaps between the gay and straight communities and educating people about gay rights issues.

Throughout the state, Fairness West Virginia works to take a stand for LGBTQ rights through lobbying and awareness events. The City of Morgantown also joined the fight for fairness when they formed the human rights commission in 2012. The council takes a special interest in the local LGBTQ community. They won the Ian Gibson-Smith award in 2014 for its great actions toward equality.

Over the past five years, Morgantown and WVU have made leaps and bounds with inclusion and diversity. Local organizations are working to grow these resources. Hopefully, the influence of these changes will help to erase the “alternative” label from the community in favor of equality, not only within city limits, but throughout West Virginia.

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