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20 • MARCH 2019

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LGBQ+ AT NMSU • MIKE COOK

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ew Mexico State University has had an LGBT program since 2005, when it was student run. Today, NMSU LGBT+ is “on par with other diversity programs” on campus said its full-time director, Zooey Sophie Pook. The LGBT+ office is open on campus in the Garcia Center every weekday plus Thursday nights for student group meetings. And just down the hall from the office in Garcia Annex is one of more than a dozen gender-neutral bathrooms scattered across the NMSU campus. Getting those gender-neutral bathrooms and a commitment from the university to put one in every new building on campus have been part of the “policies and strategies for inclusion” Pook has fought for since she took over the LGBT+ program three years ago. Gender neutral bathrooms provide more privacy for a mother and child and for the university’s gender diverse population, Pook said. Pook also has led the way for adoption of NMSU’s Preferred Name Rule, which allows students, faculty and staff “to represent their first name as they see fit,” according to lgbt.nmsu.edu/ preferred-name-policy. An important issue for “transgender inclusion,” Pook said, the rule allows anyone to use a preferred name

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instead of a legal first name on unofficial documents and forms of identification like email, Canvas, student ID, phonebooks and class rosters, the website said. Another major policy change was inclusive housing on campus, Pook said, which was created to help “gender variant students, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transitioning and questioning students experience a greater sense of safety and belonging in NMSU’s residential communities,” according to housing.nmsu.edu/ inclusive/. “Inclusive housing provides a living environment where a student can room with any other student regardless of sex, gender, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.” Pook and her staff are now at work on a change to NMSU enrollment applications to include an LGBQ identification checkbox. The university has seen a 200300 percent increase in the number of its students identifying as transgender since these policies

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NMSU LGBQ+ Rainbow Graduation ceremony 2018, with LGBQ+ Program Director Dr. Zooey Pook at far right. (Photos are from lgbt.nmsu.edu)

went into effect, Pook said. Among 1,500 NMSU students who signed up directly with the LGBQ+ program in 2017, Pook said, half identified themselves as LGBQ. LGBT+ “exists to meet the needs of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex community and to welcome and encourage the identities and expression of our diverse student population,” according to a program brochure. The program provides a comfortable space where students can do homework and relax (it has computers, free printing a television and a lounge with a nap-friendly couch, Pook said. The office hosts three student groups every Thursday night: • Gender Diverse Aggies (GDA), “a social and advocacy group for

people of all gender expressions.” Creative Media Institute major Sam Salas is president of GDA and works in the LGBQ+ office. A native of Las Cruces, Salas said GDA is “the place where students can come and just socialize, hear concerns and have relationships.” • AgGays, “an LGBT+ social and advocacy group. Everyone is welcome at both gatherings, Pook said. • A new “LGBT+ graduate-student group focused on networking and socializing,” Pook said. LGBQ+ can also help students learn more about NMSU and their studies and personal finances, make referrals and even escort them to on-campus medical and behavioral health services and counseling and share the office’s LGBTQ-themed library. The program also hosts events throughout the school year, including OUTober to celebrate National Coming Out Month, Pride Season events and the Rainbow Graduation ceremony held each May to “celebrate our LGBT+ students and allies.” “We really want to think of all the intersections from all these sectors of life,” Pook said. “We are going to end up seeing everybody.” The program welcomes anyone

“not seen as being accepted,” she said. At LGBQ+, students of all sexualities “can be who they are. Having an LGBQ-inclusive landscape at NMSU can be especially important to students who aren’t accepted at home or have kept their sexuality or gender-identity issues a secret, Pook said. These students experience issues like substance abuse and homelessness at a higher rate than others, she said. “Campus may be the only space where they feel okay,” Pook said. The LGBQ+ program is “just a place where you want to go,” she said. It’s “the difference between being an individual and just existing.” It also helps to see a transgender woman as the program’s director, Pook said. A Detroit native, Pook started her teaching career in Michigan before anti-sex discrimination laws were in place. “There were active attempts to have me fired for being transgender,” she said. She came to NMSU to earn a Ph.D. in rhetoric and cultural students and decided to stay. “I see Doña Ana County continuing its progression,” she said. For more information, visit lgbt. nmsu.edu.

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