Demere Woolway became Johns Hopkins’ first director of LGBTQ Life in 2013. Her office coordinates Safe Zone trainings, which educate students, staff, and faculty how to be better allies for the LGBTQ community.
1. What is your mission for the office?
We exist to provide support for individuals who need it and to provide transformative education for the campus, so that it can be more inclusive and so that individuals can be empowered to be supportive.
2. What were the biggest needs when you arrived on campus in 2013?
When I first got here, the Hopkins LGBTQ community expressed the need for a central, dedicated space to network across campus, so we created our office to be that space. We also had conversations around a sense of being disconnected, so each semester, we sponsor a meeting that brings together the roughly dozen LGBTQ organizations across Hopkins. There was also a need for more visibility, and one of the things we worked on was coordinating LGBTQ groups across the institution to participate in the Baltimore Pride Parade. There’s always more work that can be done, but I do feel like we’re in a very different place than we were four years ago.
3. How many Hopkins students identify as LGBTQ?
Nine percent of our students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or some other non-heterosexual sexual orientation on a student survey—which is about what we would expect looking at other institutions. The question didn’t ask about being trans, so that’s not in that set of information.
4. In what ways are we making the Homewood campus a more welcoming and tolerant place for LGBTQ students?
People sometimes think, “If I say this one magic word or do this one thing or take this one action, then I’ve done what I need to do.” From my perspective, there is a range of things that you can do. I talk with people about how they can be an ally—for example by responding when you hear someone say something negative about any group, or making the space you have control over inclusive, or including underrepresented voices as you craft your curriculum. It’s the same conversation we have with students all the time when they feel like the only way to be an activist is to show up with a sign and a bullhorn outside Garland [Hall]. That’s great and you can be an activist in that way, but showing folks a range of behaviors can also foster change.
5. What is your proudest accomplishment since becoming director of LGBTQ Life?
Every day I’m excited about what has been produced in the Safe Zone trainings. I enjoy the sessions, and I love walking through buildings on campus, seeing those Safe Zone stickers, and knowing what an impact that has on students and other folks visiting campus.
People tell me stories about how as a result of the training they’re able to communicate better with family or be supportive to someone who’s just come out, and that makes me feel like, “Okay, we’re making progress. We’re doing good things here.”
—Compiled by Mary K. Zajac