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Melissa Gills, administrative coordinator for the Office of Undergraduate Research talks about her experience as an advocate of the LGBTQ+ community at UCF.

Melissa Gillis, her preferred pronouns are she, her, hers, can’t seem to get enough of UCF. The married mother of three joined the UCF staff as an office manager in early 2016 and, not long thereafter, enrolled as a student. She graduated from UCF in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and three minors, in Women’s and Gender Studies, Multicultural Anthropology, and Diversity and Social Inequality. She is also a graduate of UCF’s S.E.E.D. and LEP programs. Now, Gillis is the proud mother of a UCF sophomore. Despite those deep connections, though, Gillis is probably best known around campus for her unwavering support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Why did you become an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community?

Although I am not a member of the community, people who are in the community have positively impacted my life from the very beginning. Before I was born, my grandmother fell down the stairs of her row house in Philadelphia and broke her hip. The gay couple who lived across the street, George and Nick, carried her to the hospital, and from that point on, they were a fixture in our household.

When I was older and we lived in Washington, D.C., my mom was good friends with the owner of a gay club in D.C. She would bring me there for lunch when I was 10 or 11 years old and I would get to hang out with the drag queens and other patrons. It was just part of my life.

In high school I had friends who were gay and I tried to be a support system for them.

Now, as an adult, I have two children who identify in the LGBTQ+ community. One of my twins is non-binary and a lesbian, and my oldest child identifies as pansexual.

When you have a history with a group of people, and the number of family and friends that I have in the LGBTQ+ community, sitting on the sidelines was never an option.

What is your involvement in the LGBTQ+ community at UCF?

I am the social media and communications chair for the PRIDE Faculty & Staff Association and a mentor in the Alliance Mentoring Program run through the LGBTQ+ Services office at Social Justice & Advocacy. I also serve on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

What do you think of the efforts UCF has made to become a welcoming and nurturing environment for members of the LGBTQ+ Community?

The Pulse tragedy proved that there’s no such thing as a “safe space.” I actually prefer not to use that term, because we can’t really provide a safe space. Our students know that we can only do so much, we can only provide a brave space, a place to be your most authentic self. I think UCF, through LGBTQ+ Services and Pride Commons, has done everything in its power to make every one of our students feel safe and respected.

In your opinion, what’s the best way for people in general to support the LGBTQ+ community?

In my experience, all the people underneath the LGBTQ+ umbrella want is tolerance, acceptance and understanding. They are no different than anybody else. They want to feel safe. They don’t want to live in fear of getting fired because of who they choose to love, they want to be able to get married to whomever they want, and they want to be able to have children with whomever they want. They have to constantly fight for those basic things that most people take for granted.

Someone that you love very much could be in the community. Each of us needs to realize that our acceptance of them could make or break their life.

And what’s next for you?

Since I came to work at UCF five and a half years ago, I’ve done the Knights trifecta: I am a staff member, I was a student and I’m now the parent of a student. But this fall, I’ll be wearing all three of those hats at the same time when I start pursuing my Master of Science degree in Management, on the Human Resources Track. Other than that, my twins will be finishing up high school over the next year, so my husband and I are looking forward to ushering them on to the next chapter of their lives, and ours.