Updated: Oct 3
Freshman Watkins student Charlie Dickerson is wary of leaving the queer-supportive community he considers family and stepping into the unknown that is Belmont.
“There are so many unknowns. We are very in the dark for a lot of this. Especially as an LGBT person, uncertainty is very, very scary because of the history our community has had with the world at large.”
Many Watkins College of Arts students are concerned about being LGBTQ+ on Belmont’s Christian campus.
After the recent announcement that the universities will merge, Watkins students expressed fear surrounding how the environment at Belmont will compare — particularly regarding attitudes and practices surrounding LGBT students.
For transgender students, this fear extends to Belmont’s administrative policies concerning housing and bathrooms.
Transgender and gay, Dickerson grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee as a pastor’s kid. So he knows the good and the bad of Christian communities, he said — of being welcomed and being turned away for his gender identity.
“I have no problem with Christianity, but there is anxiety and a lot of fear because I have experienced a lot of bigotry and a lot of fear from some Christians and Christian institutions.”
Watkins graphic design student Milo Clark shares a similar sentiment, fearing his identity as a transgender and bisexual student will not be as accepted at Belmont as it was at Watkins.
The perceived safety at Watkins stems from faculty efforts to instill preferred name policies, the institution’s gender-inclusive housing and a pervading sense of open-mindedness.
“It’s certainly outstanding how loving and respecting and caring everyone is here,” said Dickerson. “Regardless of our beliefs or whatever separates us from one other, we all come together at the end of the day, and we are the Watkins family.”
Belmont senior Grant Friedman said he felt Belmont is a welcoming place for transgender students — after all, he is one.
“The student body has really been great. All of my friends have been fantastic about switching over,” said Friedman.
“When my parents cut off my health insurance, I posted on the BU community page … I had over 100 students donate — some of which I don’t even know.”
While Friedman said Belmont is a welcoming place, he still lives in a dorm based on his assigned sex at birth.
An RA in Tall Hall, he lives and works on an all-female residents’ floor, but he said he doesn’t feel misplaced or excluded.
“Residence life has been great about it, especially in my immediate vicinity. All the RDs call me by the right name and they changed my RA badge to reflect my new name.”
The struggle others have faced over pronoun use and gender-neutral dorms doesn’t prevent Friedman from feeling safe at Belmont, he said.
“The policies aren’t the culture. We as a student body recognize that our policies reflect where we came from and not where we are.
While that may be true, the lack of supportive policy alarms Maggie Owens, a lesbian photography student at Watkins.
“Personally, I don’t have any fears of faculty and staff treating me well. My only fear is coming from administration,” Owens said.
She bases parts of her fear on previous actions from Belmont’s administration.
In 2010, Belmont fired a lesbian soccer coach after she told her players she was expecting a child with her same-sex partner. Belmont refused to divulge why she was let go, but issued a statement saying it was a mutually agreed decision.
In the past 10 years since that incident, Belmont has made strides to be more accepting.
One step was to allow an LGBTQ student organization, Bridge Builders, to form on campus after years of saying no.
Bridge Builders President Cay Aldag said Belmont’s administration currently has a sufficient support system in place for queer students.
“I can’t say there is nothing to worry about. I don’t think in good conscience I could say that about any place, but there is also not anything specific that comes to mind as things that they should be worried about. Or things that are notoriously problematic for LGBT students here.”
Aldag said the LGBT Watkins students can find support through Bridge Builders.
“I think a lot of their concerns are valid and I think the requests that they have are valid. I think that we can both come together and get Belmont to really say and hold to, that they protect and welcome LGBT students.”
Clark is eager for that to happen, he said.
“We’re going to need a lot of patience and a lot of love because I know a lot of people are scared.”
Article written by Kendall Crawford. Contributing reporting by Olivia Peppiatt.