Taking Pride in Creating an Inclusive Community
Brian Allen ’90 Funds Student Leaders in the Aggie LGBTQ+ Community
Photo by Olivia Garza '24
LGBTQ+ Pride Center Coordinator Frances Jackson poses with Brian Allen '90 scholarship recipient Ben Gettleman ’23, who is part of Texas A&M University's inaugural class of the Accelerated Bachelor to Master’s Program, which is part of the Department of Communication & Journalism in the new College of Arts & Sciences. “Finding people with whom you authentically connect, who support you, and who make you happy can be a challenge, but I found them at Texas A&M and at the Pride Center, where I always feel comfortable and feel a sense of joy,” Gettleman shared.
By Dorian Martin ’06
Brian Allen ’90 came out as gay while a student at Texas A&M University.
Fortunately, he didn’t experience much pushback after making his declaration, but some young adults do. Publicly announcing one’s personal identity can result in a young adult being cut off from families and communities at one of life’s key transitional times. These announcements can lead to financial instability and even homelessness, making the dream of earning a college degree out of reach. “With familiarity and awareness raising over the past 10 to 20 years, it’s a less prevalent issue—but more work still needs to be done,” Allen said.
To that end, Allen believes it’s important for Texas A&M’s community to welcome and support Aggies who are LGBTQ+. “Having an environment that says to LGBTQ+ students, ‘You are valued for who you are, and we want you to join us’ creates a path for these students to achieve their full potential,” he said. “Especially if they are arriving from familial or social circumstances that previously placed barriers in front of their pursuits, attending Texas A&M, knowing that specific support is there for them—much like support for any other student who is exploring their future—lays out more opportunities before them and shows what's possible.”
Committed to helping create this type of environment, Allen is making an annual donation to the Texas A&M Foundation that is being used to fund the Brian Allen ’90 Scholarship, which is among the university’s first scholarships earmarked to support its LGBTQ+ student community. This scholarship is awarded through the LGBTQ+ Pride Center, a part of Texas A&M’s Division of Student Affairs.
The scholarship, which was first given in 2021, supports an Aggie who is playing a major role in Texas A&M’s LGBTQ+ community through extracurricular activities, leadership positions, volunteering or advocacy. “Having scholarships like this that specifically go to our LGBTQ+ student leaders really help them complete their degree and go on to greater success,” said LGBTQ+ Pride Center Coordinator Frances Jackson.
Additionally, Allen has committed to establishing two endowed scholarships in his estate to specifically support incoming freshmen who are LGBTQ+ and who may not be able to attend college without the financial support. “There’s no end to the need for scholarships for this group,” he noted, adding that he hopes other donors will follow suit. “The path to supporting these students now exists so it’s easier for everyone to pursue it.”
The LGBTQ+ community is an important part of the increasing diversity on college campuses. In a sample of more than 180,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the Association of American Universities (AAU) found that nearly 17% identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer or questioning.
However, disparities in college completion exist within this group. Gay men were found to be twice as likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree, in comparison to lesbian women in 2015. Additionally, the probability of lesbian women earning a bachelor’s degree was markedly lower (25%) than heterosexual women (34%).
Academic challenges aren’t the only issues facing the LGBTQ+ community in college. These students often must deal with concerns about their physical safety. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported that sexual orientation was the second most motivating bias for hate crimes on college campuses—and six in 10 transgender, gender queer, or non-conforming (TGQN) students feared for their physical safety due to their gender identity or perceived sexual orientation, according to AAU. Furthermore 65% of these students experienced some form of harassing behavior since enrolling in college.
The COVID-19 pandemic also has hit this group of students particularly hard. Almost one-third of LGBTQ+ students surveyed in 2021 said they experienced housing disruption during the pandemic, as compared to approximately 17% of non-LGBTQ+ students. Additionally, 74% reported struggling with mental health while 69% described feelings of loneliness or isolation during the pandemic.
Fortunately, Aggies who are LGBTQ+ can access a wide range of support and services through Texas A&M’s LGBTQ+ Pride Center. The center is the latest iteration of Texas A&M’s increasing efforts to serve this specific group, which initially began in 1994 with the Gender Issues Education Services (GIES) office.
Officially renamed in 2020 to reflect the collective community and to remain current with the most inclusive terminology, the LGBTQ+ Pride Center offers a welcoming environment in Texas A&M’s state-of-the-art Student Services Building for these students to gather. The center also provides education about LGBTQ+ topics, support through resources and events, advocacy and outreach. “We know that our LGBTQ+ students at Texas A&M feel less valued on campus,” Jackson said. “Having dedicated services goes a long way to making our students feel more valued.”
Forging a Path
Allen’s announcement about his identity came at a time when Texas A&M’s GIES Office wasn’t in existence. “I came out to my friends at Texas A&M before I came out to my family,” he explained. “In the late 1980s, I think that was not an uncommon route.”
The native of Longview, Texas, always knew that college was part of his plan, but he didn’t initially know which one. After considering a small list of Texas higher education institutions, he became the second member of his family to attend Texas A&M, joining his sister, who was a Texas A&M senior at the time. “Texas A&M was more affordable, and I received scholarships, which helped,” he said.
Photo by Abbey Santoro/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications
Members of FLAKE during the LGBTQ+ Pride Center Open House in 2021. Students, faculty, and staff were invited to learn more about the resources and activities offered by the Pride Center on campus.
In addition to his studies as a political science major, Allen was involved in the Singing Cadets and several service societies. He also worked part-time assisting with polling for the Public Policy Resources Laboratory (now known as the Texas Public Policy Institute).
But at the time, Aggies who were LGBTQ+ were essentially on their own. “There was no specific Texas A&M place or group to turn to for support that I knew of,” he said. “I think the first LGBTQ+ students organization came into existence in the middle of my college years, and I don't remember knowing of it while I was there. I was lucky that I had several good TAMU friends beside me during that time, although there were some friends I lost when I told them.”
After graduation, Allen attended The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, where he served as president of the LGBTQ+ student group while earning a law degree. He then moved to Washington, D.C., working initially for a law firm and Congress before joining the U.S. International Trade Commission, which focuses on the enforcement of U.S. trade laws.
Recently, Allen was named counsel for special investigations and legislation at the commission. In that role, he assists with international trade studies requested by the White House or Congress and provides legal advice on legislation that affects the agency as well as on a wide range of topics related to U.S. trade laws.
Allen’s scholarship supports Ben Gettleman ’23 of Katy, Texas, who is part of the Texas A&M inaugural class of the Accelerated Bachelor to Master’s Program in the Department of Communication & Journalism. He is also completing a minor in climate change.
Gettleman, who uses he/they pronouns, chose to attend Texas A&M for its educational opportunities and strong community. “I wanted to attend a big university with a lot of school spirit and plenty of people and possibilities,” they said. “With our traditions and love shared by the student body, Texas A&M fits my vision perfectly!”
Gettleman heard about the Pride Center before he applied to Texas A&M and learned more during his freshman year at Fish Camp, Howdy Week, and MSC Open House. He is the proud founder of Freshman Leading in Acceptance, Kindness, and Equality (FLAKE), a leadership organization for LGBTQ+ and allied freshmen that is dedicated to giving every incoming freshman a home regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
They also serve as executive director of the Freshman Leadership Advisory Council and as a member of the Texas A&M Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society.
Gettleman’s early involvement with student organizations and the Pride Center sparked a passion for helping members of the LGBTQ+ community and a desire to consider a career related to diversity and inclusion. “These activities helped me discover that diversity and inclusion is a career path I can pursue,” he said. “My role with FLAKE is what led me to my job as a programming aide at the Pride Center, where I have worked for a year and a half managing programs and events that support and celebrate students in the queer community at Texas A&M. In my career, I want to help people who may not feel seen or represented in our society.”
The scholarship funded by Allen relieves some of Gettleman’s financial burden. “Thanks to Mr. Allen’s scholarship, I can breathe easier and focus more on my studies since I don’t have to worry nearly as much about paying for school,” they said. “This scholarship and all the resources offered by the Pride Center are incredibly important for LGBTQ+ student leaders on campus. It allows us to be seen and heard in a way that has not been available before. I believe it may encourage more queer students to take leadership positions and will give them additional support so they can thrive at Texas A&M and end up with less debt after graduation.”
The Aggie spirit, the people who make up the Texas A&M community, and the Pride Center are three things that inspire Gettleman each day. “The energy on this campus and in College Station is infectious and consistently makes me feel happy to be here,” he said. “Finding people with whom you authentically connect, who support you, and who make you happy can be a challenge, but I found them at Texas A&M and at the Pride Center, where I always feel comfortable and feel a sense of joy.”
For his part, Allen is pleased with the tremendous progress that Texas A&M has made since he was a student while also embracing the opportunity to be a catalyst for additional movement and change. “Unquestionably, the Texas A&M student body and university structure have become more aware and accepting during the last 30 to 40 years, and the Pride Center is visible proof of that,” he said. “But there are also examples every day proving why the need continues for support for LGBTQ+ students. These scholarships are a small addition to that support.”
To learn more, visit the LGBTQ+ Pride Center website, which includes a list of programs and events, and ways for students to get involved. Explore how you can support the center by contacting Sarah Hamilton ’22, assistant director of development, at email@example.com, or call 979-458-1689. You may also donate online at give.am/GLBTEndowment. Learn more about the Brian Allen '90 Scholarship here.