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Sunday, June 16, 2024

I came out my senior year of high school. When I was accepted into UF, I nervously selected the Lavender Living Learning Community, the LGBTQ-friendly dorms, on my housing portal. 

At the Lavender LLC, I formed life-long friendships and found a welcoming community that helped me grow into myself. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, queer, polyamorous, monogamous, cisgender and straight students populated the dorms, bringing me in contact with a diverse spectrum of my peers.

Holding PowerPoint nights, going downtown together to the University Club, engaging in thoughtful (and not-so-thoughtful) discourse on the unofficial Lavender Discord server and navigating the usual drama of students living together, the Lavender LLC helped me transition from an awkward just-out-of-the-closet queer young adult into who I am today. 

For queer students, and especially transgender students, the Lavender LLC provides the only gender-neutral space free from identity-based harassment. Housing is already a stress-inducing process, but the possibility of living with roommates who aggressively despise your identity as queer or trans multiplies the anxiety of the undertaking. 

The need to live in a space free from harassment, however, has been misrepresented in right-wing attacks on the community. 

An article from Young Americans for Freedom described the Lavender LLC as “a segregated dormitory for LGBTQ+ students” and “breed[ing] a generation of leftist thinkers.” The accusation of “segregation” is hot air; one of my next-door neighbors and several Lavender residents were cisgender and straight. As for “leftist indoctrination,” I encountered students with a diversity of views and despite any disagreements, we respected each other in the community.

Nevertheless, the future of the Lavender LLC remains uncertain. Last month, the housing website briefly removed the Lavender LLC and Black Cultural LLC before reinstating them a few weeks later. Students communicating with UF housing have struggled to get concrete answers. 

The two-headed blows against the LGBTQ+ and Black community on the heels of Pride Month and Juneteenth celebrations bear striking similarities to UF’s dark history during the Lavender Scare. The Johns Committee, operating from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, initially targeted the NAACP and then turned its ire towards LGBTQ+ students and faculty at Florida universities. Under the complicity of UF President J. Wayne Reitz, numerous faculty members and students left UF. 

Under our current president, Ben Sasse, the LGBTQ+ community has faced attack after attack amid his silence. Last year, UF complied with a state audit on patients receiving gender-affirming care. Another Florida law penalized using restrooms not aligned with one’s sex assigned at birth. While Sasse tweets about the importance of open inquiry and speech, queer and trans UF students experience the overbearing hand of the state interfering in our affairs.

As an upcoming senior, I dread leaving UF in a worse place than when I arrived. The uncertain future of the Lavender LLC, persistent state attacks on the queer community and the complicity of the administration have made UF more hostile toward LGBTQ+ students. Early in Pride Month, and with Gov. Ron DeSantis engaging in his usual culture war nonsense, it’s important to come together as a community even as our spaces come under fire. Ultimately, our rights were won through struggle, not given to us by those in power.

Rey Arcenas is a UF history and women’s studies senior.

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