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Exhibit celebrates LBGTQ life on campus

Tajma Henderson

Tajma Henderson

Isabella Garrison

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The LGBTQ+ community at The University of Alabama has a continuously growing history at the Capstone. Through the W.S. Hoole Special collections Library, that history has now come to life.  

The exhibit, “The Family You Choose, Documenting 30 Years of LGBTQ Student Life at the Capstone,” chronicles LGBTQ+ life at the Capstone. The exhibit’s content spans from the beginning of Spectrum – an organization for LGBTQ+ students –  to the current state of LGBTQ+ life on campus.

Kate Matheny, a reference specialist at the Hoole Library and curator of “The Family You Choose,” says the exhibit was a longtime coming, with a former student from The University acting as the catalyst. 

“A former student of UA, who is now at UNC-Chapel Hill, was going to bring an exhibit about LGBTQ+ life in the South to [the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center] … and he wanted to know if we would contribute sort of a smaller exhibit in conjunction with what he was doing, and we were like, well yeah, of course,” Matheny said. “At the last minute, the logistics [at Dinah Washington] fell through… I was like, well, we’ve already prepared it, and this is something I’ve been wanting to do anyway, so we decided to find a place for it.”

Matheny says the exhibit highlights the positive developments in LGBTQ+ life on campus.

“When I put this together, I wanted it to be celebratory,” Matheny said. “I didn’t want to shy away from some of the harder things [the LGBTQ+ community on campus] faced, like the bigotry they’ve faced and the AIDS crisis, but I did want it to be a look at the fun things they have done, even in the face of great opposition.”

Matheny notes that the biggest changes in LGBTQ+ life on campus have reflected national trends in the broader movement, specifically in including more gender and sexual identities.

“I wasn’t here, and I’m not a part of the LGBTQ community, but from what I can see from the outside, I’m really struck by how much the notion of who is in the community has changed,” Matheny said. “The group on campus went from just gay students to gay and lesbian students, to gay and lesbian and bisexual students, to including transgender students, to where they are today.”

Kendell Wilson, a junior majoring in political science and the president of Spectrum, notes that, though campus life has improved over the last 30 years for LGBTQ+ students, it has become harder in the last year. 

“Last year, I definitely saw a shift with the election,” Wilson said. “So, since then, I think the climate has been… I don’t think it’s a simmer, but I think that people are afraid to talk about LGBTQ+ things because of the current climate.”

Wilson highlighted the struggles of transgender students on campus, in particular with the issue of restrooms.

“I know of transgender students who can only use the gender-neutral restroom in the Ferg for fear of being called out or attacked if they use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity elsewhere on campus,” Wilson said.

Wilson did note that campus life is better than life in the rest of Alabama.

“It’s not the best environment, but if we’re comparing it to greater Tuscaloosa, people do feel like the campus is more accepting than greater Tuscaloosa.” 

Students can visit the exhibit in Gorgas 301 through the end of October. 

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Exhibit celebrates LBGTQ life on campus