UCF’s Pride Commons. (Photo by Connor Barry)
ORLANDO | Campus Pride announced that the University of Central Florida, along with other Florida universities, has been excluded from their 2023 Best of the Best list due to the passage of Senate Bill 266 in July.
“The bill effectively bans LGBTQ+ services,” says Shane Windmeyer, executive director and founder of Campus Pride. “It just makes no sense why we would highlight a campus where the government is restricting, and in that way effectively banning, LGBTQ+ services.”
Every year Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization working to develop and improve campus resources for LGBTQ+ college students, releases a list highlighting the most LGBTQ+ inclusive universities in the United States. According to the Campus Pride website, the Best of the Best list uses self-reported information about university programs, resources and services to determine which campuses score highest in their LGBTQ-friendly benchmarks.
According to the Florida Senate website, under SB 266 “a Florida College System institution, state university, or associated support organization may not expend funds for programs or campus activities that violate the FEEA; advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion; or promote or engage in political or social activism.”
“Depending on the campus this could mean not having an LGBTQ resource office, it could be not having certain policies and not being able to provide support for LGBTQ+ students,” Windmeyer says.
Some in the UCF community, both professors and students alike, mirror this fear for the impact the law may have going forward.
“We have gotten rid of our diversity, equity and inclusion, and most of the resources for LGBTQ students fall under that,” says Dr. Martha Brenckle, a UCF professor and researcher of queer theory.
UCF’s exclusion from the Best of the Best list is also a concern on the mind of its community.
“I find it totally embarrassing that we’re not on a list that talks about making students comfortable on campus. We can’t say, yes, we treat these students just like everybody else and we want them to be comfortable,” says Brenckle.
UCF freshman and computer engineering major, Ivan Wong seemed to feel similarly worried for the comfort of students.
“UCF has a large LGBTQ community so its just disheartening to see a nosedive in the support they can provide because of all these restrictions,” Wong says. “A lot of people find their place in college and find a community to belong in… so the lack of support will scare people away from being who they want to be.”
Brenckle fears the change will impact faculty recruitment as well, saying that since the law passed, she has seen two people in her department leave Florida as a result.
James Brown, a UCF professor of theatre and member of the LGBTQ community himself, also expressed fear for UCF’s ability to continue hiring good professors and a growing concern for UCF’s reputation as a caring and supportive university.
“I love UCF and I know over the 23 years that I have been here I have seen UCF and the leadership grow,” Brown says. “I hate what’s going on [in Florida] and I hate that the integrity of UCF is being dragged down by this. Not only for students but for the faculty and staff.”
Despite the changes, Brown remains unwavering in his belief in UCF as a strong community for LGBTQ+ students.
“I think UCF is very inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, and I don’t think that the recent laws passed by the governor… are reflective of the UCF campus and UCF leadership,” Brown says. “They did not create these laws, but unfortunately they are bound to follow them.”