UH Hilo opens new LGBTQ+ Center

The new center is quickly developing into an important place for LGBTQ+ students to have an open space where they can engage and find allies.

By Lara Hughes.
LGBTQ+ logo, rainbow colors splashed onto a heart shape.

Laura Sherwood
Laura Sherwood

There is a new LGBTQ+ Center on the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. Laura Sherwood was chosen in September to lead the center’s development and serves as the program coordinator. The purpose of the center is to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all regardless of identity or sexual orientation.

For the fall 2016 semester, the LGBTQ+ Center has been involved with many events around campus aimed at benefiting students and raising awareness. The center organized a showing of the film Kumu Hina, about a transgender Native Hawaiian kumu hula, and hosted Coming-Out Day, and most recently, World AIDS Day, which was held on the first of December at Campus Center.

The LGBTQ+ Center—which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning students and their allies—celebrated its grand opening in Oct. Around 50 community members were in attendance, and Sherwood was grateful for the support that the various students, university deans, faculty and staff provided throughout the day.

The center also held a book drive on the same day and received over 20 donations from various contributors, notably the English department.

“We’d like to get a little library going, so we’re always open to donations,” says Sherwood who aspires to make the center a go-to safe space for students.

On her inspiration to lead the UH Hilo LGBTQ+ Center, Sherwood says, “I feel very passionate about social justice issues. I’ve worked with a lot of adolescents transitioning and I’m highly involved in the LGBTQ community.”

She also says that in her experience there have been individuals who don’t know how they identify.

“We can be so fixed on labels, and when people don’t fit into those labels they don’t know how to identify,” she explains. “So we’re creating a safe space for them to be able to just be okay wherever they are.”

Safety pins with tiny block letter beads threaded on  and spelling out "safe" and "queer" and "LGBTQ."
Above, messages created on safety pins during a recent event at the UH Hilo Campus Center Plaza. People across the country are attaching  safety pins to their clothing to signify they are willing to support members of the LGBT community and others who are vulnerable to abuse (see NYT article on the trend).

Sherwood, currently a candidate for a doctor of philosophy in human development with a focus on social justice in leadership and change, emphasizes that being a community and educational resource is her vision for the center.

The next goal Sherwood has on the agenda is starting a Gay-Straight Alliance to encourage inclusion among students. According to the GSA website, the alliance is described as a student-run club, “which provides a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and work to end homophobia and transphobia.”

Sherwood expressed how important she believes it is for students to have an open space where they can engage and have allies. She wants the center to support the Pride Club, as well as other groups and individuals in the community.

Sherwood is working on writing grant proposals and finding ways to help fundraise for the center.

“I would like to see the center be able to do bigger community events that are inclusive and promote collaboration with outside community organizations, and provide food and entertainment,” she says. “I want it to be something that students want to attend. Ideally, I’d like to see some really amazing speakers that can set the tone that we are a community space that embodies diversity and inclusion.”

She places a lot of importance on personal interaction and hopes to engage with students and the community in that way, working toward satisfying the needs of the UH Hilo community and its student body.

Sherwood is also interested in having student interns at the center and would consider taking on interested individuals in the coming fiscal year.

“They should be aware of social justice issues and believe in the vision,” she says. “I think it would be amazing to have diverse areas of knowledge, to be passionate and want to be of service.”

Students interested in visiting the center or looking for somewhere to relax can visit Sherwood in PB9 on campus. There are also different types of coffee, tea, books and crafts in the center for students to enjoy.


About the author of this story: Lara Hughes (senior, business administration) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories.