Though homosexuality is nothing new, its visibility is. Officials agree that the lack of visibility of the homosexual community, among other things, translates to the lack of services for homosexual university students.
As United Student Pride (USP) president, David Reitz heads a Fresno State club for people of all sexual orientations.
The abbreviation that encompasses all sexual orientations other than heterosexuality can be tricky, because some people prefer labels like “queer,” “questioning” or “intersex.” The most encompassing is probably LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus); the “+” refers to every label not covered in the four letters before it.
As a first-generation college student, Reitz was not familiar with the inner-workings of a university, nor did he fit into one of the groups that receive special attention from University Outreach Services.
“[When navigating college] I always tried to learn for myself, learn from teachers, different people and organizations,” Reitz said.
He said Fresno’s historically conservative views can make it difficult on the LGBT+ community.
It is common, according to Reitz, for members of the LGBT+ community to be supporting themselves while attending college, so generating community outreach through USP has proven difficult.
LGBT+ clubs are not common to all high school campuses in the Fresno area, but some exist. Reitz said USP has a fleeting connection with a club from Fresno High School, but no others.
A 1989 study by the U.S. Department of Health found that gay and lesbian youths are two-to-three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexuals of the same age. Suicide was also found to be the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth.
The Women’s Resource Center, also known as the Center for Women and Culture, currently has some services for LGBT+ students. Reitz said a centralized resource office specifically designed for LGBT+ students at Fresno State would be a great asset.
Unlike Fresno State, some colleges in the California State University system have programs that cater to LGBT+ students. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, along with others, have some equivalent to an LGBT+ resource center.
The staffing for these programs tends to be small, no more than two.
Grosser, Cal Poly Pomona’s Pride Center Coordinator, said her one-person office restricts the amount of outreach and retention services she can provide for LGBT+ students.
Grosser said LGBT+ affairs are young, and the community lacks visibility. She said LGBT+ students often are not ready to reveal their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination or stigmatization. So, there is presently not a good way to count the population.
“Not everybody uses the same [labels], if we even asked it,” Grosser said.
Grosser said the 2010 Census didn’t ask for sexual orientation, and neither do college campuses. However, she said the number was not important.
“Do we need a number to know that we need services?” Grosser said.
The Williams Institute, a sexual orientation law and public-policy organization, estimated that in 2005 there were 8.8 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people living in the United States.
If that number holds true for Fresno State, than that would put the number of LGBT+ students at just under 3 percent. In comparison, African-American students make up 5.3 percent of the university’s population.
Fresno State has programs that partner with University Outreach Services in order to aid students, usually first-generation college students, during their transition from high school to college.
For example, University Migrant Services connects with the children of migrant farmworkers, the Southeast Asian Educational Conference provides that service for the Central Valley’s Asian population and so on. However, there is no program at Fresno State that reaches out specifically to LGBT+ students.
Frances Pena-Olgin, the director of University Outreach Services, said outreach programs that tailor to specific groups are sponsored by student organizations. The Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan (MEChA), for instance, sponsors the Chicano Youth Conference.
Pena-Olgin said University Outreach Services takes part in college fairs and high school outreach without aiming its services to any specific group, other than the educational conferences.
“We provide a service to all students,” Pena-Olgin said. “In that process, the assumption is we are reaching every student.”
The goal, Pena-Olgin added, is to provide the same level of service to all students in order to reach the most possible.
Pena-Olgin said interested high school and junior college students are asked to fill out an interest card with personal information including an optional ethnicity designation. However, it does not ask for sexual preference, so identifying LGBT+ students is not an easy task.
Maxine McDonald, assistant vice president of student success services, is charged with retention across campus. She said her office does not differentiate between students based on any criteria other than the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which deals with low-income, first-generation students.
McDonald said EOP is designed to serve a broad spectrum of students who need assistance. She also said the Women’s Resource Center provides most of the support for LGBT+ students.
Jenny Whyte, the coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center, said Fresno State does not have a separate position for outreach to the LGBT+ community.
“I think it would be terrific,” Whyte said.
Whyte said that the LGBT+ community has a presence on campus, but without knowing the number of students it would likely be problematic to get the university to fund any special programs.
The Women’s Resource Center together with the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute held training in April to revive the LGBT+ Allies Network. Whyte said it existed on campus about five years ago, but it needed a renewed commitment.
Leslie Weiser, a licensed psychologist in the Student Health Center, provides a support group for LGBT+ students.
Weiser said she has difficulty filling all the seats during the weekly meeting.
“It’s difficult to get any students to come to any group,” Weiser said.
The intention, Weiser said, is to create a safe space where students can talk and feel a sense of community.
Weiser said it is important for minority students to be able to feel supported, and to be with like-minded people.