Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let’s get this out of the way now: Stephen Loveless, the new director of Northeastern Illinois University’s LGBTQA Resource Center, prefers gender-neutral pronouns.

That’s an important part of Loveless’ identity, but it hardly paints the full picture. If you really want to start getting to know Loveless, ask them why they’re here.

That story begins in Florida, where Loveless was outed to their parents when they were a freshman at the University of West Florida. Loveless’ parents cut them off. Loveless finished that semester of school, then dropped out with no family support. The outlook was bleak.

Then a member of West Florida’s division of Student Affairs reached out. He secured work for Loveless, enough that they could return to school after two semesters off and eventually earn their bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and then a master’s in College Student Personnel Administration.

“It’s because of caring Student Affairs professionals that that I am here now,” Loveless said. “I’ll always be grateful to them.”

The experience was a wake-up call to Loveless, who decided to repay their debt by working with students like them who have struggled with homophobia and transphobia.

“I felt a strong moral obligation to give back,” Loveless said. “That experience is why I am passionate about my job and why I do this work.”

Loveless went on to work with the LGBTQI Life Program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., before they came to Northeastern in January.

Less than two months into the job, Loveless is very happy at their new university.

“At Northeastern, you can see the commitment to advancing and advocating for the LGBTQ community,” they said. “I’m eager to work in that type of environment.”

We asked Loveless to tell us, in their own words, about their plans for the center, their experiences so far and their pronoun preference.

Perhaps this is an obvious question, but what in your mind is the mission of the LGBTQA Resource Center?

Our mission at the LGBTQA Resource Center is threefold: advocate, educate and support.

The LGBTQA Resource Center strives to meet these tenets by advocating for more inclusive practices and policies for all LGBTQ people, educating the campus community on gender and sexuality issues, and—perhaps, most importantly—supporting students as they navigate and explore their own identities.

What are your top goals for the center over the next couple of years?

I’ve been here a little more than a month, so the center’s long-term strategic goals are still in their development stages.

What I have done in my time here is listen very closely to students, faculty and staff concerning what goals they have for the LGBTQA Resource Center, and I will continue to listen throughout the semester to see where the priorities of the Northeastern community lie and then do my best to push forward these initiatives.

I think it’s very important for the LGBTQA Resource Center to accurately reflect the stories of the individuals it represents.  I couldn’t set my own goals and agendas without listening to those we serve first.

How important is the “A” in LGBTQA?

“Allies are our best advocates.”

That’s one of my favorite phrases because allies are an important part of our community, and engaging allies is integral to the work of the LGBTQA Resource Center.

I only hope that as we begin looking beyond the LGBTQ community’s needs, we’ll expand our understanding of allyship and examine what it means to be a social justice ally—an ally for any marginalized identity—as opposed to an LGBTQ ally only.

Can you tell us more about your preference for gender-neutral pronouns?

As a society we tend to assume pronoun usage based off of our perceived gender expression of a person; I changed my pronouns in order to challenge the gender binary system. Many individuals do not identify as male or female, so I find the idea of gendering language limiting and unfortunate.

My pronouns also serve as an educational tool for others. I’d rather a curious person ask me about gender-neutral pronoun usage, thus becoming better informed, than to misgender an LGBTQA individual and possibly create a real harm to that person.  

How do you like Chicago so far?

I was born and raised in Florida so I am still adjusting to the weather, but Chicago seems to be filled with interesting opportunities. I look forward to the spring thaw when I can get out more and explore the city and what it has to offer!