Landmark Supreme Court ruling brings extra joy to UMSL Pride Month

by | Jun 22, 2020

Office of LGBTQ+ Coordinator Harry Hawkins strives to create an inclusive and welcoming environment at UMSL that includes programming and resources.
The Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives strives to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies and develops programming to that effect such as the pictured Lavender Graduation from 2019 and Pride Month events. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives strives to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies and develops programming to that effect such as the pictured Lavender Graduation from 2019 and Pride Month events. (Photos by August Jennewein)

When Harry Hawkins heard that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015, he’d been expecting the outcome.

But that didn’t stop him from bursting into tears.

He was working in the Human Rights Campaign office in Mississippi and being filmed for an internal documentary, which immortalized his reaction.

Harry Hawkins is the UMSL LGBTQ+ coordinator.

Last Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ+ workers, Hawkins was at home when the tears came. This time he was surprised.

Having the ruling come in June ­­– Pride Month – made the timing feel especially apt.

“I think it’s gotten people in a slightly more celebratory mood, especially because this was the big case,” the University of Missouri–St. Louis LGBTQ+ coordinator said. “I really did not think that case was going to go well. I did not think it would be 6-3.”

Importantly, the ruling extends workplace protections so that LGBTQ+ people cannot be legally fired for their sexual orientation, gender identity or for same-sex marriage.

Hawkins, who UMSL named its first LGBTQ+ coordinator in 2017, is already thinking about how this will benefit students.

“Our students can be who they are authentically,” he said. “Our students are able to come to UMSL, and they are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity. They have me, our program here on campus. It’s always been a tough thing to get used to this for four years and then have to go out into the workplace. Sometimes that transition is OK because you go work for a company that’s absolutely great on LGBTQ issues, but then there are some that aren’t. I think that’s going to change.”

Hawkins notes that his position and the entire Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives is unique in a good way – not many public universities in the area have similar resources. He thinks that’s a big part of what makes UMSL an excellent choice for prospective LGBTQ+ students.

“If you’re an LGBTQ student in the region, why would you pay $60,000 to $80,000 when you can come to UMSL and have an LGBTQ program?” he said.

Hawkins hopes that people will discover UMSL and enroll for that reason.

One way he’s working toward that is by making sure UMSL features prominently in a series of video interviews with regional LGBTQ+ advocates he’s conducted since the coronavirus pandemic made moving online necessary. He hopes that the series, “Rainbow Talks,” will highlight advocates living authentically and expose students to potential role models and resources.

Over the summer, Hawkins has also been working to convert other resources to virtual in the form of how-to videos.

Though the pandemic has meant no in-person events for Pride Month, Hawkins hopes he’ll be able to include some of that programming during LGBTQ+ History Month in October. In the meantime, he recommends that individuals look to national organizations such as HRC or GLAAD for Pride Month celebrations.

LGBTQ+ resources for UMSL students and community members

Rainbow Talks

Campus policies and procedures

Campus pride index

Student resources and support

Community resources

LGBTQ+ student video and Title IX

LGBTQ+ History Month

Transgender Spectrum Conference

Lavender Graduation

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.