Author: Hannah Petty
It’s very easy for us to turn on our TVs and see happy relationships between gay couples. Some people have an easier time accepting these fictitious LGBTQ relationships and lives than they do accepting the real deal.
October represents LGBTQA+ history month, and to honor this I have sat down with the director of UNL’s LGBTQA+ resource center, Pat Tetreault. Pat shared with me the history of the resource center and also her own personal history and journey throughout 26 years as a UNL faculty member.
Collective Culture: Can you tell me a bit about how this all started for you?
Pat Tetreault: I’ve been a student affairs staff person for 26 years. I’ve been the director of the center since I opened it in the fall of 2007.
CC: As the founder, do you yourself belong to the LGBTQA+ community?
PT: Yes, I identify as pansexual.
CC: Was it fairly easy to get the resource center up and running?
PT: When I first was hired to work at UNL it was as the sex ed. coordinator, and one of my jobs was to work with— at the time the language was “gay and lesbian” students. One of the things I did in conjunction with serving on the committee for LGBTQ concerns was also to work to get a position created. Really it was the students that began advocating for the space that we now have.
CC: What goes on at the resource center on a day to day basis?
PT: We’re open so people can come in to hang out or socialize. Sometimes they come in for information or personal reasons so they may want to talk to someone or talk to me about something in particular. We provide information around what groups are available in the community and referrals to LGBT affirming or welcoming providers in the community. We advocate for best practices, we have a peer-mentor program, and we do a lot of programming. These programs are good ways to de-stress after events such as the announcement by the Trump Administration that they’re trying to make gender be equated with a binary definition of biological sex. Which, if you actually are knowledgeable about the field of human sexuality, you know that sex is not binary.
CC: What advice do you have for people who are struggling with their identity?
PT: People struggle for a reason, and some of that has to do with a lack of information and a lack of acceptance. It’s important for people to realize that the ability to be who they are is connected to their ability to accept themselves. People have to be aware of the context they’re in. If they feel like they have to conceal their identity it’s because of certain negative consequences. Our research shows that the more somebody feels like they have to conceal who they are, the more anxious they are, the more depressed they are, and the lower their reported well being is. I actually think some of this data is important for non-LGBTQ people to be aware of. If you know being able to support someone who isn’t heterosexual or cisgender is directly related to their well-being, then that might help individuals realize that they really need to know how to support someone in this way. It’s important to know you’re not alone. Our community is actually really resilient. Learning how to accept and value yourself is extremely important, as well as having access to information and supportive people.
CC: What are some ways non-LGBTQA+ members can help and support those who are in the community?
PT: By being knowledgeable, by being aware of bias and trying to address it when they can. Being aware when inequity is happening, and speaking up. I do think that there is still, amongst some people, the idea that “oh that’s LGBTQ, that’s about them, I don’t really know anything. Which is a very marginalizing approach to a marginalized population. It’s not just beneficial to the community for them to be knowledgeable, but also to themselves.
CC: What would you like our readers to know?
PT: There are still a lot of misunderstandings about sexuality. A lot of people don’t realize that heterosexuality is an orientation and that they don’t choose their orientation. I also believe it’s important to remember that coming out is a process. You can’t expect to make a decision and have everything change immediately. You have to make decisions every day as to how you’re going to present yourself, who you choose to share your identity with. It may seem like someone is changing their identity, but really what they’re doing is discovering it. The person isn’t changing, their knowledge and experience is changing. Sometimes accepting something, is more important than understanding it.
The resource center always has its doors open to members and non-members of the LGBTQA+ community. Whether you have questions or just need to decompress, the center is a safe place for all students. It is located on the third floor of the Nebraska Union, room 346.