Gay-friendly campuses goal of local nonprofit

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As an undergraduate at Emporia State University in rural Kansas, Shane Windmeyer found coming out as a gay man was “difficult, frightening, lonely, emotionally complex and yet liberating.”

And as someone who “always had a passion for helping young people,” he says, he decided to try to make life easier for other college students who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and for their straight allies.

So as assistant director of student activities at UNC-Charlotte, Windmeyer spearheaded creation of an LGBT faculty and staff group.

And in 2001, Windmeyer left UNCC to launch an online network that aimed to serve as a clearinghouse of resources for gay student leaders throughout the U.S.

That online network has evolved into Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based national nonprofit that aims to build future leaders and safer, more LGBT-friendly colleges and universities.

Working throughout the U.S., Campus Pride sponsors a summer leadership camp for gay student leaders, publishes an index that lets college campuses assess their LGBT-friendly climate, and conducts workshops to train students, faculty and staff on how to prevent and respond to bias and hate crimes.

Offered July 19-24 on the campus of Towson University in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., the summer leadership camp attracted 60 students from college campuses throughout the U.S.

The camp features workshops designed to equip students to return to their campuses and “create change on social-justice issues and LGBT issues, such as policies, programs and practices to make campuses more gay-friendly, and on race issues, to be more diverse,” Windmeyer says.

Launched last September, Campus Pride’s campus-climate index serves as an online search tool that lets colleges and universities assess their gay-friendly climate, and lets prospective students and their parents search for gay-friendly schools and request information from them.

The index, which has attracted over 32,000 unique visitors, or an average of 5,500 a month, now features self-assessments by over 150 schools, and has connected nearly 900 prospective students and families with nearly 1,000 schools, Windmeyer says.

The index this fall will expand to include community colleges and technical schools, he says, and in three to five years aims to feature self-assessments by 600 schools.

Among the roughly 2,500 four-year public and private campuses in the U.S., he says, only about 600 include sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies they publish, Windmeyer says.

At roughly 30 campuses since 2001, Campus Pride also has provided three-day “Stop the Hate” workshops that attracted 1,000 faculty, staff and students from those and other campuses.

With an annual budget expected to total $150,000 this year, Campus Pride employs paid staff in Charlotte, Iowa and California, and counts on 20 volunteers who hold paid jobs at campuses throughout the U.S.

Volunteering with gay students gives those campus staff an opportunity to develop themselves as professionals, says Windmeyer, who holds a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs administration from Indiana University and has written five books on gay issues.

Campus Pride counts on earned income for 75 percent of its annual budget, including fees for the campus workshops and for roughly 25 lectures Windmeyer gives each year on college campuses, typically on the topic of “Coming out as an ally.”

The group counts on donations, fundraising and sponsorships of its camps for the remainder of its budget, and aims to expand its base of individual donors and corporate sponsors.

It also plans this fall and next spring to expand to four from two the number of campus fairs it offers that feature colleges that have participated in the index.

“It’s still a challenge being gay on a college campus today,” Windmeyer says. “Our organization believes in supporting youth, regardless of who they are, and building future leaders who value all people.”

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