By Cody Mullin

As a result of its relentless dedication to social activism over the years, UC Santa Cruz has been named one of the top 20 gay-friendly schools in the nation.

The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students, gave UCSC a “Gay Point Average” of 18 out of a possible twenty. The top twenty schools in the nation were chosen for being those which “boast the most outstanding accomplishments for LGBT progressiveness.”

UCSC has gained a reputation for its queer-friendly atmosphere over the years for resources such as the Lionel Cantú GLBTI Resource Center, located behind Crown College. The center itself provides scholarship opportunities, academic advising, counseling, and is regarded as a safe haven for GLBTI students on campus.

Deb Abbot, Director of the Cantú center, attended UCSC as an undergraduate in the 70s. Although she never identified herself as queer while enrolled in UCSC, Abbott noticed the lack of support for the queer community on-campus:

“When I was [at UCSC], there was no evidence of gay clubs or gay life on campus,” Abbott said. “Santa Cruz was still very progressive, but gay people were still very closeted.”

UCSC has been striving for GLBTI rights since 1970, when together faculty and staff created the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA). In 1997, the GLBT Resource Center was officially opened at Merrill College and in 2002, was named after late professor, Dr. Lionel Cantú Jr.

UCSC has received positive feedback as a gay-friendly campus from the student body as well. In 2003’s Princeton Review, students voted UCSC as the most accepting public university campus for queer rights in the nation.

Julia Schwab, a third-year student worker at the Cantú center admits that knowing UCSC was ranked a gay-friendly campus is what helped her decide to apply to UCSC, “I remember reading an article in The Advocate about UCSC,” she said. “ I walked in [to the Cantú center], my fourth day as a freshman, and knew that this was the place I’d feel most comfortable. I see freshman walk in all the time.”

The campus has become a safe haven for all students, no matter which sexual orientation or gender they identify with. A recent study found that 33 percent of college-age students question their sexual orientation or gender at some point in their lives.

“When you leave home, you leave your friends, family, maybe even your faith community, and you may begin questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity,” Abbott said.

But according to Tam Welch, program director for the Cantú center, this is where a place like Cantú come in. “I see a prevalent change in transgender issues,” Welch said. “There are now gender studies, there is the gender-neutral bathroom task force, and there is a gender-neutral floor in Porter.”

Welch, who has worked at the Cantú center for six years, has also witnessed an evolution in the level of tolerance on-campus.

As has Abbot: “Non-queer student organizations really are reaching out to us,” she said. “The United Campus Christian Ministry asked if they could hold meetings in our center. So not only are they reaching out, they are making it okay for students who identify themselves as both Christian and queer.”

The staff at the Cantú Center feels accomplished to be ranked in the top 20 queer-friendly schools despite the lack of funding.

“In [The Advocate’s top 20], you’ll notice that most of the schools are private universities and funding-based,” Abbott said, “One of our constraints is the funds; we’d love to bring more queer speakers, writers and performers to the school.”

Faculty at UCSC can only see bright things in the future for the GLBTIQQA community. A petition is in the works to create a gender-studies major, a field of study that is not currently at UCSC. No matter their field of study, faculty hopes that students are sent out into the world with a better understanding of today’s culture and tolerance level.

“Sometimes I get worried. I wish we could send students off with a little reminder that says ‘Remember to protect yourself and be safe out there!’” Abbott said, “We can be comfortable here—like a bubble—but students need to know that there is still a threat out there.”