LGBTQ+ affinity groups foster community, build advocacy networks for faculty, staff and law students

Black+silhouettes+of+a+group+of+students+and+the+Weber+Arch+with+the+words+%E2%80%9CNorthwestern+University.%E2%80%9D+The+background+is+rainbow+stripes.

Illustration by Carly Schulman

Out Network Evanston, a newly founded group for LGBTQ+ faculty and staff at Northwestern, has grown to over 100 members since its founding in 2020.

Wendy Klunk, Reporter

After years of scattered affinity groups and a pandemic that forced community members apart, LGBTQ+ faculty and staff at Northwestern established Out Network Evanston in 2020.

Out Network Evanston has since amassed over 100 members. The organization recently submitted paperwork to the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion seeking recognition as an official affinity group at the University. Like OUTLaw, an affinity group exclusively for Pritzker School of Law students, Out Network Evanston provides space for NU faculty and staff who identify as LGBTQ+ to build social and advocacy networks. 

Matthew Abtahi, assistant director of Multicultural Student Affairs, is a founding member of the Out Network and currently sits on its leadership council. They said the council wants the organization to accommodate the diverse and varied experiences of LGBTQ+ staff at the University. 

“We know that the LGBTQIA+ employee experience is not monolithic,” Abtahi said. “Our hope is… creating leadership structures and communication structures that allow for as many perspectives to be brought into the conversation as possible.”

The organization held its first meeting in February, Abtahi said, where group members shared their hopes for Out Network Evanston. Many said they were looking to establish relationships with staff members they can relate to.

Leadership board member Brent Turner, executive director of Campus Life, said it was important to create this social sphere for queer staff at NU. 

“Affinity groups are vital to creating and sustaining a vibrant community,” Turner said. “Many of us yearn to find colleagues with similar identities in order to support and advocate for one another.”

Pritzker student Gloria Cangé, co-president of OUTLaw, said the group has been prioritizing building community, with an emphasis on providing mutual aid to its members and the community during the pandemic. 

“We tried to distribute money to the community,” she said “We linked up with some Black-led trans organizations in Chicago and funneled money their way.”

OUTLaw has hosted virtual speakers and social events throughout the year and has received positive responses from first-year law students, Cangé said. Many said the group was one of the only campus organizations that fostered true community and helped them make friends during a potentially isolating time, she added. 

Like OUTLaw, Abtahi said Out Network Evanston is also planning to center advocacy in the organization’s mission. They hope to leverage the group’s “collective power” to make advancements on campus, especially in regards to recommendations from the University’s Gender-Queer, Non-Binary and Trans Task Force released last year.

“What I’m learning through this process is so many of us are having very similar experiences or similar hurdles,” Abtahi said, “and I think there are ways for us to address those hurdles in a way where we take care of one another, while also helping the institution move towards reducing those barriers.”

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Twitter: @WKlunk

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