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Univ. of Md. among top 30 LGBT-friendly campuses

Annual report by Campus Pride includes just one D.C.-area school

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Campus Pride Index, gay news, Washington Blade

The University of Maryland is the only D.C.-area university to make the Campus Pride list. (Photo by Bgervais; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Campus Pride released its annual “Best of the Best” Top 30 list of the LGBTQ-friendly campuses across the nation this week.

The eight-year-old list has highlighted the most LGBTQ-inclusive colleges and universities when it comes to policy, program and practice in higher education.

Campus Pride chose 30 campuses to highlight this year based on their overall ratings on the Campus Pride Index and specific LGBTQ-inclusive benchmark measures, according to a statement the group released Monday. The Campus Pride Index is a self-assessment tool evaluating LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices. The tool is free available online at www.CampusPrideIndex.org.

“Prospective students and their families today expect colleges to be LGBTQ-friendly,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and creator of the Campus Pride Index. “They want to know what LGBTQ programs, services and resources are available on the campus – and which are the ‘Best of the Best.’ Now more than ever, there are colleges that are recruiting LGBTQ youth – and they are investing in a campus that is fully supportive of LGBTQ students.”

The Campus Pride Index is based in research on policy, program and practice and is conducted for and by LGBTQ experts in the field of higher education, Windmeyer said in a statement. Each campus updates its index annually and uses the Campus Pride benchmarking tool to make improvements for LGBTQ life on campus. According to Windmeyer, “there is a lot to find for LGBTQ life at these campuses.”  Many of them are specifically addressing recruitment and academic retention efforts for LGBTQ students as well as concerns for transgender student safety, he noted.

In order to be in the Top 30 listing, an institution had to score the highest percentages in the LGBTQ-friendly benchmarks for policies, programs and practices. The listing this year includes colleges with student populations from 807 to more than 45,000, public and private schools alike. The Top 30 list is in alphabetical order, as follows:

Cornell University

Elon University

Harvey Mudd College

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Indiana University, Bloomington

Ithaca College

Macalester College

Montclair State University

Portland State University

Princeton University

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick

San Diego State University

Southern Oregon University

The Pennsylvania State University

Tufts University

University of California Los Angeles

University of California, Davis

University of California, Santa Barbara

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Louisville

University of Maine at Machias

University of Maryland, College Park

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

University of Minnesota Twin Cities

University of Pennsylvania

University of Vermont

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

Washington State University

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Movies

Gender expression is fluid in captivating ‘Paul & Trisha’ doc

Exploring what’s possible when you allow yourself to become who you truly are

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Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef in ‘Paul & Trisha.’ (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Given the polarizing controversies surrounding the subject of gender in today’s world, it might feel as if challenges to the conventional “norms” around the way we understand it were a product of the modern age. They’re not, of course; artists have been exploring the boundaries of gender  – both its presentation and its perception – since long before the language we use to discuss the topic today was ever developed. After all, gender is a universal experience, and isn’t art, ultimately, meant to be about the sharing of universal experiences in a way that bypasses, or at least overcomes, the limitations of language?

We know, we know; debate about the “purpose” of art is almost as fraught with controversy as the one about gender identity, but it’s still undeniable that art has always been the place to find ideas that contradict or question conventional ways of viewing the world. Thanks to the heavy expectation of conformity to society’s comfortable “norms”  in our relationship with gender, it’s inevitable that artists might chafe at such restrictive assumptions enough to challenge them – and few have committed quite so completely to doing so as Paul Whitehead, the focus of “Paul & Trisha: The Art of Fluidity,” a new documentary from filmmaker Fia Perera now available via VOD on iTunes and Apple TV after a successful run on the festival circuit.

Whitehead, who first gained attention and found success in London’s fertile art-and-fashion scene of the mid 1960s, might not be a household name, but he has worked closely with many people who are. A job as an in-house illustrator at a record company led to his hiring as the first art director for the UK Magazine Time Out, which opened the door for even more prominent commissions for album art – including a series of iconic covers for Genesis, Van der Graaf, Generator, and Peter Hammill, which helped to shape the visual aesthetic of the Progressive Rock movement with his bold, surrealistic pop aesthetic, and worked as an art director for John Lennon for a time. Moving to Los Angeles in 1973, his continuing work in the music industry expanded to encompass a wide variety of commercial art and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as painter of the largest indoor mural in the world inside the now-demolished Vegas World Casino in Las Vegas. As a founder of the Eyes and Ears Foundation, he conceived and organized the “Artboard Festival”, which turned a stretch of L.A. roadway into a “drive-through art gallery” with donated billboards painted by participating artists.

Perera’s film catches up with Whitehead in the relatively low-profile city of Ventura, Calif., where the globally renowned visual artist now operates from a combination studio and gallery in a strip mall storefront. Still prolific and producing striking artworks (many of them influenced and inspired by his self-described “closet Hinduism”), the film reveals a man who, far from coming off as elderly, seems ageless; possessed of a rare mix of spiritual insight and worldly wisdom, he is left by the filmmaker to tell his own story by himself, and he embraces the task with the effortless verve of a seasoned raconteur. For roughly the first half of the film, we are treated to the chronicle of his early career provided straight from the source, without “talking head” commentaries or interview footage culled from entertainment news archives, and laced with anecdotes and observations that reveal a clear-headedness, along with a remarkable sense of self-knowledge and an inspiring freedom of thought, that makes his observations feel like deep wisdom. He’s a fascinating host, taking us on a tour of the life he has lived so far, and it’s like spending time with the most interesting guy at the party.

It’s when “Art of Fluidity” introduces its second subject, however, that things really begin to get interesting, because as Whitehead was pushing boundaries as an in-demand artist, he was also pushing boundaries in other parts of his life. Experimenting with his gender identity through cross-dressing since the 1960s, what began tentatively as an “in the bedroom” fetish became a long-term process of self-discovery that resulted in the emergence of “converged artist” Trisha Van Cleef, a feminine manifestation of Whitehead’s persona who has been creating art of her own since 2004. Neither dissociated “alter ego” nor performative character, Trisha might be a conceptual construct, in some ways, but she’s also a very authentic expression of personal gender perception who exists just as definitively as Paul Whitehead. They are, like the seeming opposites of yin and yang, two sides of the same fundamental and united nature.

Naturally, the bold process of redefining one’s personal relationship with gender is not an easy one, and part of what makes Trisha so compelling is the challenge she represents to Paul – and, by extension, the audience – by co-existing with him in his own life. She pushes him to step beyond his fears – such as his concerns about the hostile attitude of the shopkeeper next door and the danger of bullying, brutality, and worse when Trisha goes out in public – and embrace both sides of his nature instead of trying to force himself to be one or the other alone. And while the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the brutal reality about the risk of violence against non-gender-conforming people in our culture, it also highlights what is possible when you choose to allow yourself to become who you truly are.

As a sort of disclaimer, it must be acknowledged that some viewers may take issue with some of Whitehead’s personal beliefs about gender identity, which might not quite mesh with prevailing ideas and could be perceived as “problematic” within certain perspectives. Similarly, the depth of his engagement with Hindu cosmology might be off-putting to audiences geared toward skepticism around any spiritually inspired outlook on the world. However, it’s clear within the larger context of the documentary that both Paul and Trisha speak only for themselves, expressing a personal truth that does not nullify or deny the personal truth of anyone else. Further, one of the facets that gives “Art of Fluidity” its mesmerizing, upbeat charm is the sense that we are watching an ongoing evolution, a work in progress in which an artist is still discovering the way forward. There’s no insinuation that any aspect of Paul or Trisha’s shared life is definitive, rather we come to see them as a united pair, in constant flux, moving through the world together, as one, and becoming more like themselves every step of the way.

That’s something toward which we all would be wise to aspire; the acceptance of all of our parts and the understanding that we are always in the process of becoming something else would certainly go a long way toward making a happier, friendlier world.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Pride Rewind

Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party held at The Square

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(Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

The Capital Pride Alliance held its “Pride Rewind: Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party” at The Square (1850 K Street, N.W.) on Saturday, June 8.

(Washington Blade photos by Emily Hanna)

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PHOTOS: Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show

Washington Blade holds annual event at The Wharf

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2024 Pride on the Pier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade and the Ladies of LURe held the Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show at The Wharf on Saturday, June 8. The fireworks were presented by the Leonard-Litz LGBTQ Foundation.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Emily Hanna; Wildside Media photos used with permission; @marvimage photo used with permission)

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