UPenn To Build Gay Student Center

The University of Pennsylvania accepted a $2 million donation last week for the building of a new Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender student center (LGBT). The donation and center are the first and largest for that purpose in higher education philanthropy, according to Penn.

Harvard has no such center.

Funds for the Penn LGBT student center were given by two alumni of the university, partners for life David Goodhand and Vincent Griski, both members of Penn's Class of 1985. They announced the gift at Penn's National Coming Out Day ceremonies last Wednesday.

In an e-mail message Goodhand and Griski wrote that they have "fond memories of Penn."

"But it was really a matter of Penn being ready for the gift," they wrote. "We had been supporting the existing center for a few years and we got to know the students there. They were the primary inspiration for our gift."

Penn LGBT Director Bob Schoenberg said the center will combine his initial ideas with the couple's own desire to significantly contribute to what he described as Penn's progressive environment.

"I've known David and Vincent since they were undergraduates," Schoenberg said. "In 1997 I had dinner with David and Vincent and they asked me to compose a wish list of my hopes for the center and community. My list included everything from making a $500 film series to optimistically, new space. I had no idea of the depth of David and Vincent's resources."

Goodhand and Griski have also endowed two scholarships for students at Penn and donated funds that increased the staff of the current LGBT Center.

"We hope the center becomes a welcoming and safe environment for LGBT people at Penn," they wrote. "We also hope that it will be an information resource for them offering guidance on everything from safe sex to job searches."

Schoenberg said Penn has long maintained a reputation of progressiveness and acceptance with regard to the treatment of gay students on its campus. He calls the center "groundbreaking--there's nothing like this in the country."

In 1979 Penn implemented its policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, four years before Harvard organized the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus.

Schoenberg, who is also chair of the National Consortium of LGBT Resources, said Penn is also one of about 60 institutions of higher learning in the United States that has a professional staff dedicated exclusively to working on LGBT issues.

Harvard does not have a professional staff that works exclusively on gay and lesbian issues, according to Ria Gautreau-Tabacco '03, a Bisexual Gay Lesbian Tansgender Student Alliance (BGLTSA) board member.

Gautreau-Tabacco said she wished Harvard would begin to offer resources like Penn's.

"There is a general current of homophobia that just doesn't often come to fruition [at Harvard]," Gautreau-Tabacco said. "The homophobic Winthrop and Mather incidents exhibit that. The gay community is often isolated. It will be a long time before Harvard provides that type of resource."

The LGBT center at Penn also boasts plans for a reading room, space for all of the gay and lesbian related programs on Penn's campus, a kitchen and a terrace and garden.