LavenderCal sees 3 decades as LGBTQ+ faculty, staff support network

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Jonathan Winters/Courtesy

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For nearly three decades, LavenderCal has served as a support network for UC Berkeley’s LGBTQ+ faculty and staff.

Composed of nearly 300 members, LavenderCal regularly hosts social activities for campus LGBTQ+ and allied staff and faculty, said member and executive assistant to the graduate division deans Sharon Page-Medrich, who called visibility a key group goal.

“Campus for a long time has made diversity and inclusion a core part of its values,” Page-Medrich said. “I think Berkeley really has been a trailblazer … in affirming and supporting our communities.”

LavenderCal maintains a list on its website of faculty and staff who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as a list of those who identify as allies. While Page-Medrich said she believes these lists do not reflect the true number of LGBTQ+-identifying people and allies on campus, she stated that the lists are helpful to point students toward an adult role model or open ear.

“The only way to change the hearts and minds of people in general, through society, is to be visible as coworkers, as colleagues, as teachers, as neighbors, as friends, to show that … all the worst stereotypes are wrong and backwards,” Page-Medrich said.

LavenderCal was founded in 1989 as LeGaSEE, or Lesbian Gay Staff Empowerment and Enlightenment, by UC Berkeley staff members Jessea Greenman and Cathy McIntosh. After undergoing multiple name changes since its founding, the group became LavenderCal in 2004.

LavenderCal’s goals — to encourage, support, assist and welcome the perspectives of LGBTQ+ staff and faculty — help foster what member Adam Berman, executive director of emerging initiatives at the Haas School of Business, calls a “welcoming” campus.

Berman, now out, said that while he was not out at Berkeley either as an undergraduate in the 1980s or a professor in the 1990s, his reluctance was related only to his personal comfort.

“Living in the Bay Area is much easier than in many other places in the U.S. and the world,” Berman said. “I don’t feel we’ve experienced discrimination here but we do receive many questions.”

LavenderCal helped to found the Philip Brett LGBT Fellowship Fund in 2009. Named after the late Berkeley professor who helped develop lesbian and gay musicology, the fund issues research scholarships in the field of LGBT studies, according to the UC Berkeley website.

But even inclusive communities such as Berkeley can grow, said campus law professor and LavenderCal ally Ty Alper, who highlighted that the UC Berkeley School of Law only started installing gender neutral bathrooms just this year.

Alper also emphasized that allies should actively work to support their LGBTQ+ counterparts.

“I think the role of the ally is to not only be supportive of activism around LGBTQ rights, but to take proactive steps to make our community a more welcoming and inclusive space for everybody,” Alper said.

Contact Alexandra Reinecke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @arhine9.