Educating for Equality 20 years of the UNC LGBTQ Center

Since its founding in 2003, the UNC LGBTQ Center has fostered an inclusive environment for Tar Heels of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions to create a stronger and more welcoming campus for students.

Through educational programs, support, advocacy and community-building events, the center has played an essential role on Carolina's campus for two decades by increasing campus and community awareness, improving campus climate and advocating for sexuality and gender identity issues.

Those achievements are the result of years of work by students, staff and faculty who saw the need for a more centralized and visible space to serve the needs of LGBTQ+ Tar Heels.

Continue reading to learn more about the LGBTQ Center and its 20 years of impact on Carolina

Building Community

The LGBTQ Center may be 20 years old, but Carolina’s LGBTQ+ community has been building strength for nearly half a century.

The Carolina Gay Association was officially recognized as a student group in 1974, and the organization grew from roughly 20 members to nearly 100 members in its first year. Just two years later, the group began hosting the Southeastern Gay Conference and launched its newsletter, Lambda.

The group, which later changed its name to the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association, advocated for rights for the LGBTQ+ community both on campus and off. Changing its name again in 1992 to Bisexuals, Gay Men, Lesbians, Allies for Diversity group, members worked to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community through programs like Safe Zone Training, which provides resources, information and a network of allies.

The organization continues today as the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.

Students with a rainbow parachute.

In fall 2000, then-Provost Robert Shelton appointed a committee to review the UNC-Chapel Hill climate in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on the findings, the report identified several recommendations, one of which was to create an LGBTQ Center. Shelton charged a planning group to address the needs of Carolina’s LGBTQ+ community by examining student support services, academic and curriculum development, employee and faculty benefits and public service training.

Three years later, in the spring of 2003, the precursor to the UNC LGBTQ Center — the LGBTQ Office — opened as part of the Office of the Dean of Students.

Students hold a said about the LGBTQ Center.

[LGBTQ students] are a group of people who are vital to this campus because of the intellectual and scholarly creativity they bring. The University is the great place it is because of the contributions of people from a variety of backgrounds.

Then-Provost Robert Shelton said in 2002

In July 2006, Shelton and then-Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Peggy Jablonski, created two full-time positions — a director and an assistant director — to lead a newly established and administratively separate LGBTQ Center. The center was tasked with providing programs, services and resources to create a welcoming environment for all members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community.

By the next summer, the LGBTQ Center was open in Student Academic Services Building South, where it is today.

“There was a lot of effort, thoughtfulness and intention behind the leadership that wanted to establish a space for students who identify in the LGBTQ community so they could have resources for education, awareness, empowerment and support.

“I hope that when we look back at this moment, we will see this journey, the time, effort and thought that we put into the center grow from seeds we’re planting now, ready for harvest at the next anniversary.”

Jamillae Stockett, assistant director of the LGBTQ Center

Terri Phoenix has been the director of the LGBTQ Center for the majority of the center’s two decades. Phoenix began working with the center in 2005 as a graduate assistant and then as the assistant director before becoming the director in 2007. Under Phoenix’s leadership and the work of many students and staff members, the LGBTQ Center has established itself as a staple on Carolina’s campus.

“The center wasn’t well known when I got here in 2005,” Phoenix told University Development. “I spent the first years on campus doing a lot of outreach to try and make people aware of the center. Additionally, I helped get us representation on various committees around campus, such as the Faculty Committee on Community and Diversity and the Employee Forum. The center has become bigger, more robust, more well-known, and I think it has much more of an influence on the everyday operations of student affairs and the University as a whole.”

A lasting legacy

Our mission is to create a welcoming, inclusive and equitable environment for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. We say it like that rather than the center being just for LGBTQ people because we feel that heterosexism, cis sexism, ableism and racism affect everybody, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We feel our center serves the entire University.

Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center

 Major advances for the LGBTQ+ community on campus and all Tar Heels — from gender-non-specific bathrooms in all new buildings to the addition of sexuality studies courses — can be traced back to the work of the center, which is supported by donor contributions.

But the center also works on the micro-level to make an impact, holding events like a welcome back celebration, NC Pride, the Lavender Graduation and Pride Week to build community. The center also provides educational opportunities to continue to build a more inclusive campus. The center educated more than 5,000 Tar Heels through Safe Haven Training, LGBTQ 101 and other programs.



20th anniversary fo the UNC LGBTQ Center.

Click on a photo below to learn more about the center's focus areas

“I feel passionately that our educational programs are changing the future of the world. We’re talking to the future doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, teachers — all of these new professionals that are going out into their fields. Through our Safe Zone training, through speaking to them in class, we are helping the next generation of leaders gain skills and understanding that aren’t always available through standardized curricula.

“Having a dedicated center on campus is important for so many reasons. Having an LGBTQ Center on campus creates that visibility for all queer and trans youth. They see that there is investment in their communities on campus by the University and that there’s somewhere they can go to get assistance and find community.

“Every student over the last 20 years that we’ve managed to keep in school, help graduate and be successful in the way that they define success is an important achievement of the center.”

Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center

Learn more

  • LGBTQ Center

    The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center works to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment for UNC-Chapel Hill community members of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

  • Carolina Pride

    The Carolina Pride Alum Network (CPAN) seeks to foster community among LGBTQ+ alums, faculty, staff, and students. Our purpose is to institutionalize engagement that serves our membership, progress for our community and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • students pose for a photo in the pit with balloons behind them.

    The UNC LGBTQ Center at 20

    A Q&A with Terri Phoenix about the LGBTQ Center’s past, present and future.