November 16, 2011 — The University of Virginia's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center recently chose Curry School of Education doctoral student Tara Saylor for its V. Shamim Sisson Ally of the Year Award, recognizing her work as a researcher and a volunteer to support the gay and lesbian community at the University and beyond.
The award recognizes an outstanding ally in the community with a strong commitment to support sexual and gender minority students. It is named after Sisson, a now-retired senior associate dean of students who was instrumental in the establishment of the LGBT Resource Center 10 years ago.
"This award brings necessary attention to the important role that allies play in the fight for equality, social justice and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community," said Edward S. Warwick, program coordinator of LGBT Student Services. ("Q" is sometimes added to acknowledge "queer" or "questioning" individuals.) "Tara Saylor does just that, incorporating her passion for equality, commitment and dedication to the LGBTQ community through her academic work, her educational goals and her daily life."
Saylor, who is currently living in Oklahoma, defended her dissertation – a study of the high school experiences of sexual minority students – in late October and will receive her degree in May. The dissertation proposal won a Doctoral Research Award in Education Science from U.Va.'s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in 2009.
Her nominators, Nancy Deutsch, associate professor of education in the Curry School, and John Portmann, associate professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, said her work challenges the dominant research view that sexual minority youth are either depressed or suicidal on the one hand or empowered activists on the other.
"Her qualitative study of youths' experiences of formal and informal sex education curriculum in high school complicates these ideas, providing important information for educators and scholars," they wrote.
Her teaching also reflected her commitment to gay and lesbian rights, they wrote. "For example, when she taught 'Sex Education Policy,' she discussed the impact of sex education on sexual minority youth."
Since 2006, Saylor has participated on the Reider Otis Scholarship Committee, which awards a scholarship to a gay or lesbian student, and several times chaired it or co-chaired it with Portmann. She was a member of Queer and Allied Activism, and with other members, established the first University-wide Research Symposium on Queer Studies.
This summer, Saylor hosted a fundraiser to benefit LGBTQ rights in Uganda, where the country's parliament considered passing a law making homosexual behavior a crime punishable by death or life in prison. Part of the money Saylor raised will go toward supporting youth living in secrecy in a "safe house" and helping provide computers for an underground LGBT center.
In 2009, she won a Doris Buffett Fellowship for Families and the Law, funded by the Sunshine Foundation and the U.Va. School of Law [link to www.law.virginia.edu]. She used the funds to establish and lead an LGBT Families program with the group Oklahomans for Equality.
"Tara is a tireless social advocate and volunteer for LGBTQ issues," Warwick said.
The Ally of the Year Award is traditionally presented during the annual Serpentine Society Fall Weekend, but since Saylor couldn't attend, she sent remarks that Warwick read at the Nov. 5 event.
"There are so many things worth being passionate about in this world, and so many social issues that deserve and need our support," she wrote. "In my experience, however, you don't choose what to be passionate about, it chooses you. Because my brother is gay, 20 years ago I began a very personal journey of learning about difference and injustice. The most important thing I have learned on this journey is the power of unconditional love."