Queerness at UC Berkeley: Numbers, lived experiences, campus resources

photo of students on the glade
Kevin Reber/File
As UC Berkeley's LGBTQ+ population grows, many community members feel administration could do more to provide resources to these communities.

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Situated in the San Francisco Bay Area — a place renowned for its vibrant LGBTQ+ community — UC Berkeley is home to a significant LGBTQ+ presence of its own.

According to fall 2021 numbers, 14% of undergraduate students and 7% of graduate students are LGBTQ+. Among campus employees, 7% of ladder faculty, 8% of lecturers and 10% of staff are LGBTQ+.

These numbers display a slight increase for most groups from fall 2020, which is the earliest record of these numbers that includes all groups. Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted the data may not include everyone since some people choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite these numbers, LGBTQ+ campus members hold varying opinions on feelings of representation, belonging and support from the institution.

“The queer community at Berkeley is very strong, welcoming and open,” said campus junior Teo Lin-Bianco, founder and president of Out for Business at Berkeley. “The one hesitation I have is that a lot of the resources available to queer students aren’t very well-publicized.”

According to Gilmore, campus recently established new positions to connect the Queer Alliance and Resource Center, or QARC, the Gender Equity Resource Center and the LEAD Center. She added that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions added an LGBTQ+ liaison position in 2022 to increase recruitment and enrollment of queer and transgender students.

Lin-Bianco said QARC ensures queer organizations have adequate resources to feel “heard” and “represented,” but he believes campus lacks academic and career resources for LGBTQ+ students.

“Especially in the business community, there’s little to no representation for queer folks,” Lin-Bianco said. “Haas doesn’t do a really great job as a school of really focusing on identity-based groups.”

Campus rising fifth-year student Melanie Campos, president of the Berkeley Queer and Allied Pre-Health/Pre-Medical Association, said navigating “weeder” courses has been “difficult and isolating” as a queer person of color.

While Campos said they feel “lucky” to be at UC Berkeley, which they believe has more representation than other institutions, they emphasized that this representation comes from students, not the administration.

“It’s great to be highlighted in things like articles and pride hashtags, but at such a powerful university, I would hope that the administration would do more beyond us just being symbols of representation,” Campos said in an email. “It was just recent history where QARC and bridges had to fight just to get a proper space on campus.”

There is a difference between providing resources to make queer students feel welcome and intentionally creating a welcoming atmosphere, according to campus doctoral candidate Taormina Lepore, who leads Queer Grads.

Lepore pointed out the difference between sending an email for Pride and providing healthcare benefits for queer and transgender people. For example, Lepore said insurance companies often limit transgender medical benefits only for people who are actively medically transitioning. Meanwhile, queer parents lack support for assistive reproductive care, such as sperm and egg freezing, in vitro fertilization and adoption, according to Lepore.

“How great would it be if we had people in leadership positions regularly discussing how their lived queer experiences are crucial to the university?” Lepore said. “There is this feeling of ‘why does this matter other than lip service?’ ”

Lepore said they hope University Health Services can have more advocates for LGBTQ+ people who understand their lived experiences rather than solely coming from an academic perspective.

They also hope campus can rethink administrative barriers to enact meaningful change.

“The argument could be made that we can’t cover everything and we can’t do it all, but we’re missing a key component of equity when it comes to medical care,” Lepore said. “When we’re asking for something we desperately need, please listen and please understand that some administrative barriers really aren’t barriers at all.”

Contact Aileen Wu at [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @aileenwu_.