History of the LGBT Center
The University of Louisville was a trailblazer on LGBT issues long before the LGBT Center opened officially in December 2007. As far back as the 1970's, LGBT student groups and faculty/staff allies have worked to make the campus more welcoming and inclusive.
Dr. Ken Terrill was an early hero of LGBT work on U of L’s campus, serving as an advisor to the student groups throughout the 1980s. A faculty member in Theatre Arts, Dr. Terrill was an openly gay man who served as a role model to those around him and was an advocate for fairness and inclusion at a time when few people talked openly about the issue. After his death in 1994, his family endowed a scholarship in his name for students who work on behalf of the LGBT community, and this legacy continues to help students attend school today.
In 2004, the Belknap Campus was littered with homophobic flyers that prompted SGA president Ryan McKinley to take action. He and a group of student activists presented their recommendations to Dr. Mordean Taylor-Archer, the Vice Provost for Diversity and International Affairs. The list included opening an office and hiring staff to serve LGBT students, and in response Dr. Taylor-Archer established a graduate assistantship to help meet the need. That same year, a group of employees formed the group Faculty and Staff for Human Rights and asked Provost Shirley Willihnganz to extend health insurance benefits to the partners of U of L employees.
The graduate assistant hired by Dr. Taylor-Archer was Kristie Lohmeier Law, a recent graduate of the Kent School of Social Work who had been active in LGBT issues as a student and who agreed to reenter graduate school in order to fill the university's first LGBT-focused position. Her position was supported by Kent School Dean Terry Singer and her assignment was to launch Safe Zone training on campus, support LGBT students, and collaborate with others on campus who were working on social justice issues. She recalls the emotional challenges and rewards of being among the first to address LGBT inclusion at U of L. "During that year I experienced the most glaring examples of homophobia I have ever seen. I also experienced example after example of administrators and other members of the U of L community who stood up against homophobia and supported the work we were doing. We couldn't have done it without that support."
Students, faculty, and staff working together brought powerful results and in 2007 U of L became the first university in Kentucky to offer health insurance benefits to LGBT employees and the first school to open an office for LGBT Services. Dr. Taylor-Archer opened the LGBT Center with one part-time employee and a small office in a converted closet. Since then, the center and the LGBT community at U of L have grown in amazing ways. Along with additional staff to help forward the work of the Center, U of L has done amazing work to create a climate of inclusion:
- Established the country’s first endowed chair in LGBT studies
- Created an LGBT studies minor
- Added gender identity and expression to the campus nondiscrimination policy
- Opened the South’s first themed housing community for students interested in LGBT issues and social justice
- Offered the South’s first LGBT-themed study abroad experience
- Increased accommodations for transgender students
In 2013, the LGBT Center opened a satellite office on the Health Sciences Center campus and began a multi-year effort to infuse the curriculum for first and second year medical students with new LGBT competencies established by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). U of L was the first school in the nation to launch an effort like this one and has been recognized across the country as a leader in LGBT health education.
With a team of seven professional staff on both campuses, the LGBT Center continues to set high goals for inclusion. To date, U of L has been recognized multiple times as one of the most LGBT-welcoming the country by Campus Pride, and the highest ranked public university in the South.