Nearly a year after the on-campus harassment of a gay student in March 2012, UVU has amended its anti-discrimination policy to list sexual orientation as a protected status.
The change, which took place Jan. 2013, was an effort championed by Tom Hawkins, UVU family studies major and co-chair of UVU Spectrum, also known as the Gay/Straight Alliance.
“When UVU claims to be an inclusive campus, examples like this are what make it so,” Hawkins said. “The university and the administration are going above and beyond what is required to make sure students feel secure, safe and as if this is their school as much as anyone else’s.”
The effort put forth by the administration to change Policy 165 was spurred in 2012 when Hawkins was running for vice president of clubs. An anonymous student sent an email denouncing to various clubs and their presidencies because of his sexual orientation. The student urged, “Stand true to your beliefs. Hold true to the rod, and do not let this sinning student win.”
The “concerned student” also wrote, “Because of Tom Hawkins’ sexuality his judgment is impaired, and biased. This is a risky thing as he will be imposing his biasis and judgments into all the clubs and organizations on campus … Because of Tom’s sexual orientation, he will not be able to perform his job the same way his opponent can.”
After reading the hate-mail that was circulating among his peers, Hawkins said, “My initial reaction was to quit the race with what dignity I had left. However, I quickly decided to try and turn a negative situation into a positive one.”
Students, faculty, staff and the administration rallied behind Hawkins in the cause of equality.
“I gained a deep sense of pride in the school, which has turned into a love for this school,” Hawkins said. “It is always a good reminder that just because one person thinks a certain way, does not mean that person speaks for every one of that community, religion, race etc.”
Hawkins said because of all the support he received, the amendment, which could have taken years to approve, was passed in less than a year. The policy was re-written by the end of summer 2012 and presented to the Board of Trustees in December of the same year. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass the amendment of the anti-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation.
Using the momentum from this triumph for the LGBT community, UVU Spectrum is currently working with university administration on creating more safe zones on campus.
“Utah Valley can sometimes be hard for people of the LGBT community because of the dominant religion here. Many people of the LGBT community feel they do not belong,” Hawkins said. “[This] is one of the reasons safe zones and Spectrum are so important. It gives people a place they can come and feel is if they have a place.”
Hawkins is hoping that in time, UVU will have a strong resource center for the LGBT community, so residents of Utah Valley have a place to belong after so many have been cast outside by moral codes and social stigmas.
Recently, Spectrum has begun a mentoring program in Provo for LGBT youth, and its members hope to establish similar programs in Orem and Payson.
“We’ve banded together, and we have made a home for a lot of people who didn’t have one to go back to,” Hawkins said.
Although Hawkins understands that being associated with Spectrum, which is still controversial in Utah Valley, will ignite a backlash, he chooses to fight for equality of the LGBT community.
“If we have ideas or possible solutions to problems, we should be discussing them, rather than turning a blind eye and hoping someone else solves them,” Hawkins said. “In reality, these hot topics are things we should be having discussions about.”
Hawkins’s never-wavering commitment to having a positive outlook is what has helped him, and will continue to help him win his battles for equality.
“There is a stereotype about Utah Valley and how conservative it is,” Hawkins said. “There is a stereotype about UVU being like BYU. But stereotypes are constantly being broken. The thing is, no matter where you go, there are going to be good and bad things about that place, as well as good and bad people. The trick is to figure out how to handle the bad that comes with the good. It’s up to you. We should be working on building bridges between two communities that have been very hurt by each other and stop trying to play an eye for an eye.”