I had the distinct pleasure of attending the B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Benefits) Rally on the Union Patio on November 19th, which was hosted by Burnt Orange Benefits (B.O.B.) and SpeakOut. The speakers were informative and moving as they mobilized students and educated the attendees on the details surrounding domestic partnership benefits at the University of Texas, the most important fact being that UT does not offer them.
The rally was started off by Karen Landolt, member of the Pride and Equity Faculty and Staff Association (PEFSA) and employee of the McCombs MBA Career Services, who spoke about the 70 page PEFSA report presented, detailing the inequities of not providing domestic partner benefits, to President Powers last year and read a letter of resignation written by previous UT employee Dr. Vargas. The letter declared that the main reason Dr. Vargas was taking a position at UCLA was due to the fact that they offered the domestic partenership benefits her and her partner needed. A subsequent speaker, Ambalika Williams of Join The Impact, motivated the crowd with calls for in your face activism. The call for equality rang clear as the crowd cheered for more.
There was a slew of representation from across campus including Scott Parks and Muneezah Kabir from Student Government, Britney Mcalister from University Democrats, Brandon Hunter with the Latino Leadership Council, QSA representative Katie Wanamaker, Michael Benbow of StandOut, Kile Akerman with UT Speech, Brendan Chan with the McCombs Diversity Council, and Anna Russo representing the Women's Resource Agency. Each speaker offered just another reason to join the fight and get truly active. Where rallying is good, they said, letter writing was better. Where letter writing did the trick, meeting with officials in person is a more effective avenue. The crowd learned that we need to not only approach President Powers and the Board of Regents, but also approach our legislators. The call to lobbying was made. It will be interesting to see if it is met.
The most moving speaker by far was Roberto Flotte, a representative of QPOCA and a student staff member of the GSC, who read a letter addressed to President Powers about his recent experience with a current UT professor. Roberto had written a paper about queer and two spirited people in the latino community and the professor circled and questioned the terminology used in his paper. After having to define queer, transgender, and two-spirit to this professor, he was asked if he was a homosexual. Roberto does not identify with the term "homosexual," so he said no. In response the professor told him "good job son," and went on a diatribe about homosexuality being wrong.
This is happening on our campus. This is a reallity in 2009 at a school that prides itself on being open to all students. To echo Roberto's eloquent call for justice, how are queer students at the University of Texas supposed to feel safe if the queer role models we have are leaving the university for better opportunities to have their relationships recognized and there families provided for? Not providing domestic partner benefits is not an option. As students we demand equality and a regard for basic human rights not only on UT campus, but across the state of Texas and ultimately the world.