Chick-fil-A boycott begs need for LGBT student support

Research on USF policies highlights the need for stronger practices across campus life for LGBTQ+ students.. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

In late September, an open letter began circulating around campus asking students to boycott USF Dining Services for expanding its on-campus Chick-fil-A. The company has long been criticized for the political activities of its founder and foundation, both of which have donated large sums to organizations either unfriendly or outright hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people.

Those organizations include groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which suggests its employees avoid “homosexual acts,” and Exodus International, which promotes conversion therapy, which is a pseudoscientific and dangerous practice that attempts to force people with other sexualities to be heterosexual.

Whatever the motives behind the expansion, it sends the message that the administration wants to have it both ways when it comes to diversity, talking up inclusion until it conflicts with a popular brand. Mixed signals like these alienate LGBTQ students and erode campus climate. More broadly, the Chick-fil-A boycott is an indicator that USF needs further progress on LGBTQ inclusion.

USF currently offers a handful of LGBTQ resources, like Safe Zone inclusivity training through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, student organizations like the P.R.I.D.E. (People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality) Alliance and Trans+ Student Union, a LGBTQ-themed Living Learning Community called Stonewall Suites and academic resources through the Department of Women and Gender Studies.

Each of these resources provide valuable support. Still, research on USF policies highlights the need for stronger practices across campus life.

Campus Pride, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ issues in higher education, released an index that rates colleges and universities on their LGBTQ inclusion. Each score is based on a survey completed by the school’s diversity office, answering questions about which policies, resources and services are available. USF received a 3.5 out of 5 stars — not terrible, but if the index was a college class, USF would have gotten a C-minus.

UCF, our Orlando rival, received a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Per Campus Pride, UCF provides training to faculty, staff and campus police on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. It also has gender-inclusive housing across all residence halls, LGBTQ-friendly roommate matching and a mentoring program that specifically helps LGBTQ students transition into academic life. USF, by comparison, meets none of these criteria.

Applicants to USF residence halls, for instance, can indicate roommate preferences around smoking, room temperature and hours awake, but no such matching exists around gender identity or sexuality.

As a symbolic matter, USF should reconsider its contract with Chick-fil-A. Symbolic changes, however, are not enough. Administration needs renewed focus on LGBTQ inclusion, implementing new policies like those on the Campus Pride Index.

Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.