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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

A&M marches toward progress

via Twitter @TAMU

LGBTQ+ students at Texas A&M have access to information, resources and support through the Pride Center. 

Bobby Brooks, having come from an Aggie family, said he always wanted to be part of the 12th Man. He also knew being a closeted gay man threatened this dream.
Texas A&M University was one of the 20 most unfriendly colleges for LGBTQ+ students in the nation in the fall of 2014, according to the Princeton Review. Brooks began his freshman year of college that same semester. Brooks set out to make a change on campus, hoping to bring together the Aggie and LGBTQ+ communities. Since then, A&M has seen the establishment of campus offices, inclusivity programs and student organizations for these underrepresented Aggies.
Even after Brooks graduated in 2018, his vision pushed forward. In 2020, A&M opened the new LGBTQ+ Pride Center, replacing the GLBT Resource Center previously housed in a portable building on the far end of west campus. Brooks said he struggled as a freshman by not having the resources available today.
Approximately 10 percent of all college students identify as LGBTQ+, and Brooks said he wanted to ensure A&M was a safe space for this group.
“Immediately, I noticed that there were some challenges,” Brooks said. “I heard jokes about gay people. I didn’t feel comfortable coming out to others on campus.”
This hostility clashed with Brooks’ own values, he said. Though he wasn’t “out of the closet,” Brooks said he was still proud of himself.
“I love who I am,” Brooks said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot in my life. To me, being gay was just another blessing. It’s a fundamental aspect of my identity.”
Brooks said he began searching for ways to bring together what it meant to be an Aggie and what it meant to be gay.
Three years later, Brooks accomplished what many thought impossible — he was elected as A&M’s first openly gay student body president.
“I wanted to improve the climate on campus,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t easy; that took a lot of effort. Once they get over the hill and past the shock value of recognizing that LGBT Aggies exist among them, it’s easier for people.”
Only roughly 15 percent of institutions of higher learning in the nation have a center for LGBTQ+ students.
A&M’s revamped LGBTQ+ Pride Center, one of only a few in the south, offers a variety of services and is committed to helping students in whatever ways they need, center coordinator Frances Jackson said.
“We connect students with resources, counseling, so many wonderful things,” Jackson said. “The center also presents to classes, offices and orgs. We’re very dedicated to just being a wonderful, connected space.”
In this way, Jackson and their team are continuing the work Brooks began years prior.
“We’re seeing more effort put into the Pride Center,” Brooks said. “I’m seeing increased funding and effort being allocated there. I can’t speak highly enough of it.”
Even with these resources provided by the university, many students still feel unwelcome, health sophomore Emily Lucas said. Lucas said she experienced this firsthand before even stepping onto campus.
“I overheard a group of people saying some really nasty, transphobic things,” Lucas said. “I was seriously questioning if I had made the right choice to go to A&M.”
This led to a wave of students stepping up and creating safe spaces for other LGBTQ+ Aggies, Lucas said. As part of this movement, she co-founded Freshmen Leading in Acceptance, Kindness and Equality, or FLAKE, and is currently serving as the assistant director.
“I thought that creating a [Freshman Leadership Organization] for LGBTQ freshmen and allies would be the perfect way to show incoming students that they are welcome on campus,” Lucas said. “I never wanted any freshman to feel the same fear and lack of acceptance that I did. Being different doesn’t mean you have to be alone.”
Other organizations on campus have been recently created for similar reasons. Ezranai Fontaney, president and founder of MUA Aggies, said they wanted to start a group for queer people to explore interests in makeup artistry without fear of judgement.
“We want people to express their individuality,” Fontaney said. “Our three core values are service, leadership and makeup.”
This helps students present their most authentic selves to the general public, Fontaney said.
“In the past, my gender expression matched the gender norms that society placed on boys and girls,” Fontaney said. “Now, my gender expression doesn’t have to align with those. I can wear skirts and makeup. This is me.”
FLAKE and MUA Aggies are two of only five undergraduate student organizations on campus specifically geared toward LGBTQ+ students, Jackson said. The Pride Center collaborates with these organizations to promote awareness and encourage involvement.
“We’re here to support them,” Jackson said. “Those student groups are really awesome. We do what we can.”
Brooks said there were few student organizations like this when he was a student. Though slightly jealous, Brooks said he is proud of what the groups are accomplishing.
“We’re seeing the creation of organizations that are pro-LGBTQ Aggies,” Brooks said. “I want students to feel comfortable in their skin. These orgs help with that.”
Other organizations, though not specifically created for LGBTQ+ students, have also made strides in terms of acceptance, Fish Camp co-chair Zach Carson said.
“As a freshman, I came out at Fish Camp,” Carson said. “That was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Since then, as a counselor and eventual co-chair, I’ve been able to make an impact and leave a lesson of acceptance. That’s what Fish Camp is all about.”
Brooks, who now works in Washington, D.C., said change is also seen on a national level. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is the most diverse in national history and includes Pete Buttigieg, the first LGBTQ+ Cabinet member in U.S. history. Carson said A&M has followed a similar trajectory.
“In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion of queer culture celebration,” Carson said. “I’m excited to see how A&M continues to keep this trend going.”
Now, seven years after Brooks began his freshman year, A&M has been removed from The Princeton Review’s list of LGBTQ+ unfriendly universities in the nation. Even so, Brooks said A&M still has work to do, and he is optimistic the 12th Man will continue to grow more inclusive moving forward.
“When LGBTQ+ Aggies find the intersection of A&M’s core values with their own personal identities, that’s where they’ll find success,” Brooks said. “But by and large, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. There needs to be more support. We’ll get there eventually.”

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