When he started at Evergreen more than a decade ago, Seth Kirby longed for a place like the college’s new Trans & Queer Center.
“It’s not easy for a lot of kids going away to school,” says Kirby ’01, MPA ’07. “I came out to my parents just after I had been accepted to Evergreen. I told them I’m a trans man, and they cut me off financially.”
Kirby eventually secured the funds needed to attend Evergreen, but he never forgot how difficult it was to navigate the coming-out process without a reliable family support network. In an effort to improve that experience for young adults in the community, Kirby began an Evergreen internship at Stonewall Youth in Olympia.
“That’s where I developed many of my youth leadership skills,” he explains. “It was therapeutic to do that work, but it also turned out to be my calling in life.”
Today, Kirby is the executive director of Oasis Youth Center, a safe, affirming space for LGBTQ+ youth in Tacoma. He says he’s incredibly encouraged to know that Evergreen students will have access to critical resources and support through the TQC.
“Like any college campus, Evergreen will have a broad spectrum of people coming out,” Kirby says. “And coming out is an ongoing process. It’s not a one-time thing. It takes place gradually, often in fits and starts. You might come out to your closest friends long before you tell family members. It’s very powerful to come to college and know you can be yourself. That’s the best hope I have for the TQC—that it makes that possible for students.”
TQC Coordinator Amira Caluya agrees. “I want to be able to proudly say that we support our LGBTQ+ population,” Caluya says. “I want to be able to say that this is a place where they can thrive.
“But we have a long way to go—particularly as it relates to trans and nonbinary people at Evergreen. Students who come to the center often tell me they get misgendered by their faculty. Or faculty will ask for people’s pronouns at the beginning of the quarter and then continue to misgender them for the rest of the quarter.” (Caluya identifies as nonbinary and prefers they/them pronouns.)
Caluya, who earned a master’s in social work from the University of Michigan before getting hired at Evergreen, says there’s plenty of hard work ahead. They believe that America’s tumultuous political climate makes the TQC’s work increasingly essential.
“Election Day hit us hard,” Caluya says. “We had more than 100 folks stop by the center the next day. People are concerned for their safety, first and foremost. Now more than ever, we play a vital role in creating a space where folks can feel safe and request the resources they need.”
Days of excitement and apprehension
Quentin King ’84 remembers one of the TQC’s earliest forebears, which also existed during a time of political upheaval.
“I first came to what we called the GRC, or Gay Resource Center, in 1980,” King says. “It wasn’t like today, where it’s obvious that President George Bridges stands behind the new center and its mission. Back then, it was a student group with no faculty or administrative presence to speak of. We had regular drop-in hours, offered resources, and hosted campus events.”
King came to Evergreen directly from high school to focus on chemistry and computer science. He was working a volunteer shift in the GRC when he met his future husband, Glen Kriekenbeck ’89. Kriekenbeck had taken the scenic route to Evergreen.
“I refer to myself as a ‘typical Evergreen student,’” he says, “because I transferred from UW but worked for a while in Anchorage and Denver before going back to school. Evergreen is geared toward the self-motivated student, and I was deeply fascinated by the intersection of arts and computer sciences. It was a thrilling time.”
Unfortunately, Kriekenbeck continues, it was a nervous time, too. “The second Reagan Administration was a frightening period for so many people, gay people included. We also had the AIDS crisis to contend with—something that was being used to vilify our community. There was a strong need for the GRC on campus. We needed it to feel safe and stay sane.”
Kriekenbeck and King also used the GRC as a springboard for self-expression. They co-hosted a talk show on KAOS featuring discussions of gay and lesbian issues with student and faculty guests. In between conversations, they spun records by their favorite queer artists.
“Don’t forget,” King says. “This was the 1980s. We weren’t just the resource center for gays and lesbians on campus—we were serving the same function for Olympia, too. Resources in this area were incredibly limited. There weren’t even any gay bars in town. So we really embraced the challenge of creating a meeting place for the whole community. An oasis of sorts.”
“Evergreen felt much safer than mainstream society back then,” King continues, “but it’s important to point out that we’re speaking from the experience of two gay men. Our group didn’t have resources or outreach for trans people. That’s what I see as the biggest leap forward for today’s center.”
What lies ahead
For Caluya, an intensive focus on trans issues is what sets the TQC apart from iterations past. “Trans misogyny is a huge issue, historically. It’s still prevalent today, but we can combat it by making this center inclusive. It should feel like a safe space for the entire LGBTQ+ population on campus, including people of color, if we’re doing it right.”
Inclusivity is indeed a hallmark of the new TQC, whose web presence promises academic and social support for “Evergreen’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and agender students, faculty, and staff.”
That spirit of inclusivity means the world to Seth Kirby, who once lacked the assurance of a safe space at Evergreen as a student. He believes the TQC marks a critical step in the evolution of student services.
“It’s still so early in the TQC’s development,” Kirby says. “There’s no limit to its potential—what it could do for students, faculty, everyone involved with the college’s future. Evergreen teaches people to be lifelong learners, and that doesn’t just apply to academics. This center is another opportunity to learn and grow together.”
Alumni have a crucial role to play in the center’s growth and development as well, Caluya says.
“If you’re an alum who came out in college, you can give to ensure that there’s a space for today’s students to develop their identity in the most meaningful way possible. I couldn’t imagine what my own life would look like if I hadn’t had access to a place like this.”
If you’re interested in giving to support the Trans & Queer Center at Evergreen, visit evergreen.edu/tqc. Your gift will help build, improve, and maintain a safe space on campus for Evergreen’s LGBTQ+ population.