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LGBT Awareness Days hope to shed light on discrimination, gay bullying

Natalie Nguyen, program assistant at the UNF Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, is out in the workplace.When she would send resumes to potential employers, she sometimes excluded her work with LGBT-related jobs, such as her work with JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network). She said has to do this because the Human Rights Ordinance does not provide discrimination protection for LGBT employees.“It’s really hard to keep track of,” she said. “Did I send them the one with all the work I did [with LGBT], or did I send them the one that’s kind of generic?”

This is just one of many issues members of the LGBT community face, and the LGBT Resource Center wants to inform students of these issues.

The LGBT Resource Center will be hosting awareness days Jan. 24-27 to shed light on everyday challenges LGBT people face in their.

LGBT Resource Center Coordinator Ryan Miller said his goals for the awareness days are to provide education of gay issues and visibility of members of the LGBT community.

“We’ve been really intentional in the way we’ve put together this week to cover a lot of different topics that we think [provide] something for everyone,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Nguyen said the center is still gathering data from the LGBT Climate Survey that was sent out during the Fall semester.  The survey asked whether or not students felt the campus was safe for LGBT students as well as about the presence of harassment on campus.

Nguyen said so far the center has noticed a decrease in physical violence toward LGBT students.

One of the highlights of the awareness days is the presentation of a documentary on gay bullying in the school system.

“Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History” is a documentary that follows Jamie Nabozny and his legal battle against his high school for not taking action against the anti-gay bullying he experienced when he was a student at the school.

According to Lambda Legal, the case was groundbreaking in the fight against anti-gay verbal and physical abuse in public schools.

Michael Lemley, a student assistant at the resource center, said he is looking forward to the screening of “Bullied.” Lemley came out as a sophomore in high school, and he said this film really hits home with some of the personal struggles he experienced while in high school.

He said the awareness days and the “Gay? Fine By Me” campaign offer great support for students who might not know much about the LGBT community.

“We’re here, our supporters are around us and we’re visible,” Lemley said. “It really helps us to kind of jump over that hurdle of invisibility.”

Nguyen said she believes this documentary is an important film to show UNF students in light of the several suicides related to anti-gay bullying in 2010. UNF President John Delaney will introduce the film and a representative from Southern Poverty Law Center will be at the event to answer questions.

“I think [students can learn] how to be a friend or an ally to someone who is being harassed, or to speak up for those who can’t or are unwilling to speak up for themselves,” Nguyen said.

The “Fearless” photography exhibit is another highlight of the awareness days. The exhibit includes photographs by Jeff Sheng, with pictures of openly gay athletes who are out to their teammates and coaches and have found support.

Nguyen finds the exhibit a strong example of change, since openly gay athletes are often ostracized from their teams and are victims of physical abuse. Sheng’s exhibit was featured in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The resource center is happy to have the “Fearless” exhibit brought to UNF because it provides a face and a story for LGBT.

With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Nguyen said the LGBT Resource Center would love to one day collaborate with the ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) office here at UNF to allow a peaceful transition into new policies.

“By the time these ROTC students receive their commission, they’re going to be leading people and they’re going to be implementing the new procedures,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said she feels UNF is on the right path, and she is looking forward to the growth of its diverse student body and work force.

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