The Alphabet Center at Eastern Kentucky University is a registered student organization that supports students in the LGBTQ+ community through awareness, visibility, and community building. The center got its name from the community acronym, LGBTQQIAAP2S+, but since the community name is always changing, it was simply called the Alphabet Center. It was created as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ population after experiencing a need among faculty and staff for the space.
Lisa Day, co-faculty advisor of the Alphabet Center and director of women and gender studies and Appalachian studies, came to EKU in 2001 and remembered when the center was created around 2008.
“The people involved in starting it were Marta Miranda, who was the previous Women and Gender Studies director before me, and Dean John Wade of the then-College of Arts and Sciences. Several people around campus had been talking about it for years, and it finally came to fruition,” Day said.
The Alphabet Center is similar to organizations at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, which recently added an undergraduate certificate in LGBTQ health studies. However, EKU’s center does not have the capabilities that Louisville is able to offer.
“Louisville has been kind of the leader in Kentucky because they have an actual center with staff, student workers and a graduate assistant and a really solid organization. EKU’s, on the other hand, is run by students, and it’s for students,” Day said.
The Alphabet Center fluctuates in members, ranging from as low as 10 to as high as 75 at times. Before spring break last semester, the center was working on marketing to students across campus by hanging posters in various buildings advertising their events. In the past, social media was used to spread awareness. The center was also announced in classes, and extra credit has been offered for attending events such as Alphabet Center meetings.
One of the main goals of the Alphabet Center is to provide a safe space for people to be themselves and grow a strong community. Everett Lutes, junior from Louisville, studying animal studies and philosophy, is the current president of the Alphabet Center. He is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and got involved during his freshman year. He decided to run for office so the center could continue to operate and provide for students on campus.
“I came to the Alphabet Center in the middle of the semester, so there weren’t as many opportunities to meet people as if I had come in the fall. I was just sort of looking around for a place to go, and just the minute I stepped in, I felt like these are my people. These are people who aren’t going to judge me,” Lutes said.
Community is a vital part of the center’s operations, and events allow the community to expand and grow together. This semester, events take place on Discord. The center had a meet and greet on Oct. 8 and has a movie night planned for Oct. 22.
Lutes said weekly meetings usually involve an activity they have planned and depending on how much time is remaining, they sit around and socialize with each other. The strong sense of community allows members to combat the prejudice they face on campus and in the community.
“If you have a friend group that you can hang out with on a regular basis or just to know they exist, you already have a stronger shield against any kind of harassment or abuse,” Day said.
The main event for the Alphabet Center is pride prom.
“It’s a really sort of special event because a lot of people who are LGBT did not get to go to prom in high school because either they couldn’t be with the person they were interested in; they didn’t have a date because they weren’t out,” Lutes said.
Last year, pride prom was canceled due to the on-going Coronavirus outbreak.
Anyone can get involved with the Alphabet Center at any time, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity. Many students get involved because they want to know more about the identities so they can be a better friend to those who are part of the community.
“We’re a very open-minded group. We focus a lot on inclusion,” Lutes said.
During non-pandemic times, weekly meetings are hosted in Roark 10 at 8 p.m. Meetings and events are free, and anyone is welcome to attend.
For more information, visit the Alphabet Center Facebook page or their website here.