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Be Who You Are

Brian Buford, director of the University of Louisville Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Services, wants LGBT alumni to reconnect with their alma mater.

Brian Buford sometimes has a bad day, but you would never know it. The director of the University of Louisville Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Services is a walking, talking positive force. And he focuses his prodigious energy toward one thing—helping students have a better experience than he had when he was a student at UofL.

Now, he wants fellow LGBT alumni to reconnect with their alma mater and help.

Buford, who earned his UofL master’s degree in education in 1990 and has been a university employee for more than 20 years, says the school has changed dramatically over the past two decades in how it handles LGBT students.

“It’s night and day. It’s just a really different picture now than it was when I was a student,” Buford says. “There was no message on campus that said, ‘This is a safe place. You are welcome here. Be who you are.’

“I really want alumni to come back and see how far along that continuum we’ve come. It’s really amazing.”

Many in the university community might remember Buford as the long-time human resources manager who took a six-month leave of absence in 2007 to hike the entire 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. At the time, he said one of the attractions of taking on the trail was the simplicity of it. “You just walk and eat and sleep.”

feature-be_who.jpgWhen he returned from the woods in autumn of that year, he was ready to take on something a little more complicated. That’s when UofL became the first university in Kentucky to establish an LGBT Services office and made Buford its director. The office works to strengthen and sustain an inclusive campus community that welcomes people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

Part of a consortium of LGBT centers across the country, it also works in partnership with other diversity efforts across campus and supports Dr. Mordean Taylor-Archer, vice provost for diversity and equal opportunity.

“Simply put, we want an environment of inclusiveness,” Taylor-Archer says, “one that empowers us all to achieve our highest potential without fear of prejudice or bias. A university, especially a vibrant metropolitan research university, should have a climate of respect for the entire spectrum of human diversity.”

Buford says one of the first priorities for the new LGBT Services office was to establish a space on campus—“a safe place where our students know they are welcome,” he says, “And we needed to make the space comfortable.”

With its open contemporary design, its wash of natural light, bookshelves and comfortable furniture, the LGBT Services office in a renovated portion of the Red Barn on Belknap Campus is a place for students to talk, listen or find support, Buford says.

“We put a lot of initial energy into making this cozy, comfy and welcoming,” he says. “To walk in here during the school year and see the activity … It’s so exciting to know that there’s a clear message now to students that says, ‘Yes, you can come here and have a great experience. You can expect more than just tolerance, but we’re making sure you have programs and services.’ ”

Some of the educational, social and supportive programming LGBT Services offer includes the Safe Zone Project, a half-day workshop designed to give university faculty and staff a better understanding of LGBT students so they can create a welcoming campus environment; the Speakers Bureau, in which LGBT provides a trained speaker or panel to discuss LGBT-related topics for any audience; an oral histories project with University Archives designed to tell the story of LGBT people at UofL; and variety of library resources.

(Go to louisville.edu/lgbt to learn about all the programs and services offered by the office.)

“I’m just really proud of how quickly we have been able to establish some important things that the university wasn’t doing before,” Buford says. “Like our support group for students who are coming out or questioning [their sexuality], which I felt very strongly about. Since the beginning of ’08, we have had an ongoing ‘coming out’ support group that has done some of our best work.

“The focus has been getting a whole lot of different things in place.”

One of the next major steps, Buford says, should be to establish a vibrant LGBT Alumni Association to reconnect alumni to the university.

“I don’t think we’ve reached out to LGBT alumni nearly enough, partly because it’s hard to know who they are. Finding them is a challenge,” he says. “I don’t think many LGBT alumni even know what’s been happening here.”

Buford says alumni will not only be excited but also, like him, want to help current students have a much better experience than perhaps they did.

“I’m just convinced that older generations of LGBT folks would love to know that they could do something to help a young person grow,” he says. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s what I love about this job—helping these students have a better life.”

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