Campus Life

Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity celebrates 20 years at Penn State

“Penn State Queerstory” exhibit now showing in the HUB-Robeson Center

The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at Penn State, located in the HUB-Robeson Center on the University Park campus, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Credit: Amir AgharebparastAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at Penn State is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with programming that celebrates and honors two decades of inclusivity in the University community.

Continuing throughout the month, the center will present “Penn State Queerstory,” an exhibit of LGBTQ history at Penn State and specifically the center’s history. The exhibit will be set up on the lower level of the HUB-Robeson Center. In addition, the center is hosting events for National LGBTQA History Month throughout October.

A unit of Penn State Student Affairs, the center works to create and maintain an open, safer and inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students at Penn State, said Sonya Wilmoth, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

“Penn State Queerstory” will take visitors back in time and showcase a wealth of photographs, documents and artifacts speaking to the amazing queer history at Penn State over the last two decades, said Wilmoth. Student staff will narrate short vignettes introducing the listener to the people, groups and actions on campus that paved the way for the center and its existence.

Penn State student Celina Phillips works on a student organizations wall display for "Penn State Queerstory," an exhibit being displayed on the lower level of the HUB-Robeson Center to celebrate the 20th anniversary this year of Penn State's Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Credit: Christopher Lee / Penn State Student AffairsAll Rights Reserved.

“Putting this exhibit together has been such a learning experience for both our professional and student staffs. To read documents, look at pictures and see items that speak to the queer history here at Penn State and formation of the LGBTA Student Resource Center in 2001 was a stark reminder that those that came before us worked hard to forge the path to where we are today,” said Wilmoth.

The LGBTA Resource Room and the center’s beginnings

In 1990, then-Penn State President Joab Thomas appointed the Gay and Lesbian Task Force to address the addition of sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination policy. Five years of reports from the commission showing the need for a dedicated space, led to the establishment in 1996 of the LGBTA Student Resource Room in Grange Building.

In January of 2001 the LGBTA Student Resource Center opened in 101 Boucke Building, and in November of the same year Allison Subasic was appointed as the center’s first full-time director. The new center offered a comprehensive range of education, information and advocacy services for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

In 2014, the center added "Q" to its name to better reflect community representation, making the formal name the LGBTQA Student Resource Center. Subasic retired in 2017 after 16 years as leader, and Brian Patchcoski was named director.

Growing diversity and a name change: The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity

In July 2019 the center changed its name to the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, to better reflect its service to the growing diversity within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and related identities community — especially of those who might not find their identity within the LGBTQA acronym — and to maximize inclusivity. The name change came as a result of input from students, University and campus partners, as well as from benchmarking with peer institutions.

2020 brings a move, renovations – and a pandemic

In January 2020, the center relocated from its location in Boucke Building to a new home located on the lower level of the HUB-Robeson Center. Expanding its offerings for members of the Penn State community, the center increased its accessibility and inclusivity — even during the COVID-19 pandemic — while maintaining a respectful and safe environment that honors sexual and gender diversity, said Wilmoth. Designed through student feedback and guided by constituent conversations to foster a sense of belonging and community, the center added universal and inclusive design features.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of many physical locations on campus during the spring semester, students used building schematics, photographs and digital community-building platforms like Discord to duplicate the center’s space virtually. By recreating the space online, visitors accessed the new space remotely and engaged in programming, support, digital tours and celebrations like Lavender Graduation until the center officially reopened in August 2021, which would not have been possible without the renovated space to facilitate social distancing. Students and staff also facilitated equitable access in partnering across the University to secure translator and closed-captioning for the center’s digital programming.

In 2021, Wilmoth — who previously joined the center as assistant director in 2013 — became interim director, then director, succeeding Patchcoski as he transitioned to his current role as the assistant vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion in Student Affairs.

A gift and expansion: The Jeffrey A. Conrad Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity

In February 2021, Penn State announced a $1 million gift from alumnus Jeffrey A. Conrad to support facility renovations and enhanced programming for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at University Park. As the largest gift in the center’s history, Conrad’s commitment provided support for the  expanded home for the campus’ LGBTQ+ and ally communities while enhancing its future programming. In recognition of his support, the renovated and relocated physical center space was named The Jeffrey A. Conrad Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Conrad’s gift continues to enhance the center’s future programming around themes of social, gender and racial justice, including the center’s LGBTQ+ lecture series, keynote speakers, faculty workshops, peer-to-peer engagement, and community outreach events.

The work continues

With Penn State once again recognized in Campus Pride’s "Best of the Best" LGBTQ-friendly Colleges and Universities list, receiving an overall 5 out of 5 stars on the Campus Pride Index for 2021, Wilmoth said the “Penn State Queerstory” exhibit is a chance for the University community as a whole to reflect on how far the community has come — and also how much more work needs to be done.

Penn State Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Director Sonya Wilmoth, far left, discusses putting together the “Penn State Queerstory” exhibit with students (l-r) Sarabeth Bowmaster, Dylan Miller and Celina Phillips. The exhibit, celebrating the center's 20th anniversary, is now on display on the lower level of the HUB-Robeson Center. Credit: Christopher Lee / Penn State Student AffairsAll Rights Reserved.

“As many of us have made our way through all of this historical information, many times sitting on the floor in an open office reading documents and looking at pictures of protests and rallies, we realize that the queer community at Penn State has seen both resistance and triumphs,” said Wilmoth. “So much work was done by faculty, staff and students to get us to the point we are today and we are forever grateful. There is much work to do, but this look back has given us strength for the future.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity website and follow the center on social media @PennStateLGBTQ.

Last Updated October 27, 2021