Honoring LGBTQ+ History Month & Disability Employment Awareness Month
Dear DU community,
In our continuing effort to celebrate the incredible diversity that makes our institution the thriving teaching, learning and research community that it is, this October we celebrate both Disability Employment Awareness Month and LGBTQ+ History Month. Despite the normative understanding of what it means to be a productive contributing member of society or who we are allowed to love and how we are supposed to behave, members of these minoritized communities have made substantial contributions to making the world what it is today.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community have long endured persecution and harm as they have sought equal rights and basic access to health care, employment and marriage. The “+” in the “LGBTQ+” moniker indicates a continuing evolution of our understanding of gender and sexuality. It represents the gender identities or sexual orientations not yet systemically recognized or affirmed. Although the struggles of the Queer community were ongoing, it wasn’t until October of 1994 when Rodney Wilson, a high-school educator from Missouri—in collaboration with community leaders and fellow educators—began the practice of celebrating LGBTQ+ History month. The celebration has since been endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and various other national organizations. The selection of October for LGBTQ+ History Month was so that it coincided with National Coming Out Day. Coming Out Day take place on the 11th of October and celebrates the liberation of living as openly LGBTQ+.
This month, we also recognize people who experience disabilities, a minoritized identity that may not be immediately visible. Estimates suggest that 1 in 4 Americans have some form of disability. While some people who have physical disabilities that are more visible, those with learning disabilities and cognitive disabilities often go unnoticed with their needs unmet. Others who have chronic pain, immune deficiencies and other physiological conditions may also face challenges in the workplace. It is in the service of recognizing their needs and advocating for their rights that, 30 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law as an important foundational step. While Disability Employment Awareness Month is necessary to highlight those who contribute to these collective successes, we must acknowledge that the struggle to correct disabling infrastructure and community norms extend to more than just the work environment. Disability rights advocates urge a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to advance the rights of this community by recognizing various awareness months, and working to eliminate barriers to working, thinking and learning.
While many of us are aware of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided Allied defense during World War II while using a wheelchair, fewer of us are aware of Alan Turing, a gay man, who was responsible for decoding thousands of communications that ultimately led to the fall of the Third Reich. While many of us marvel at Peter Dinklage’s performance in Game of Thrones¸ not enough of us have stopped to wonder about achondroplasia (a condition that causes dwarfism) and how society places barriers in the paths of those with this genetic variation. While many of us have admired The Matrix Trilogy¸ not enough of us know that the creators of the movies, Lana and Lilly Wachowski are trans women. From Emma Gonzalez, a queer activist who found her calling after the Parkland shooting in 2018, to Dr. Maya Angelou, who attributes some of her successes as a poet to her selective mutism as a child, Queer and disabled visionaries continue to lead us in our quest to be a better people.
As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month and Disability Employment Awareness Month this October, we must not forget that there is still work to be done. As the Learning Effectiveness Program at the University of Denver prepares to celebrate its 40th year of assisting students who learn differently, we are reminded that Universal Design in curriculum and architecture is yet to be achieved. Even as we advance the University of Denver toward a more welcoming place for our queer faculty, staff and students, LGBTQ+ communities are still fighting for their right to healthcare access and a harassment-free workplace. Together, as a DU community, we commit to continue our work towards a more inclusive institution.
In the coming days, we will highlight members of the DU community who hold some of these marginalized identities and invite you to recognize their contributions to life at DU. The University of Denver is better when all members of our community can bring all of themselves, their talents, their histories and their experiences with them to the classroom or workplace. It is our collective responsibility to create such a place.
Jeremy Haefner, chancellor
Mary Clark, provost and executive vice chancellor
Tom Romero, interim vice chancellor of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Jerron Lowe, interim vice chancellor of human resources
Chenthu Jayachandiran, director of the Cultural Center
Rufina A. Hernández, associate director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and ADA coordinator
Joshua Kaufman, director of the Disability Services Program
Scott Van Loo, director of the Learning Effectiveness Program
Jasmine Pulce, co-chair of Queer University Employees
Madison Dorman, co-chair of Queer University Employees
Sister Fred, facilitator of the Queer Faculty Alliance