When Lizzy Dupont moved to Texas from New Orleans, she was surprised to find open homophobia — something she didn’t experience at home. That prompted her to get involved with a lot of student organizations as a freshman, including the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Dupont, who graduated in 2009, also benefited from programming in the Multicultural Engagement Center, which helped her sharpen her collegiate focus on social justice. She was a pre-med Humanities major in the College of Liberal Arts’ Liberal Arts Honors program and she also studied Intergroup Dialogue, a course offered through the Educational Psychology department and the Office of the Dean of Students in partnership with the Multicultural Engagement Center that allows students to study different kinds of oppression including racism, transphobia, ableism, religious oppression, and how to be an ally.
During her second semester, Dupont and another classmate co-facilitated a lower-division Intergroup Dialogue- style course on Sexism under the supervision of deans Elizabeth Medina and Margarita Arellano. During Intergroup Dialogue, which is team-taught, Dupont worked with Shane Whalley, the education coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center who also directs Peers for Pride, a peer facilitation program that trains students to facilitate workshops on LGBT issues.
That led to Dupont’s involvement with Peers for Pride. “When I first started at UT, I wanted to be an ally, but I had no idea how to express myself respectfully. The GSC and MEC helped me develop a framework for how to be a good ally. I definitely grew as a person through a lot of the programs that they offered.”
After being involved in the LGBTQ community as an ally for a long time, Dupont came out as pansexual during her junior year. “It was weird. Being in the community, I questioned myself constantly. I’d also been inundated with messages about who I was based on my gender expression. Then I met someone who…introduced me to a part of myself that I didn’t know much about,” she said. “I wasn’t the target of prejudice for the majority of my life. I’m middle class, white, English is my first language, generally perceived as straight because of my gender expression… Much of the safety I felt was a product of me being perceived as part of every group of social privilege. The people I met through the MEC and the GSC really helped me grapple with what I was going through and how to see myself contributing to the bigger picture.”
After graduation, Dupont worked at a women’s shelter in her native New Orleans, building on what she learned in the GSC and the MEC. Theren she led weekly mini-group dialogues with the staff. “We talked about diversity issues, how those issues affected the residents we were working with and what kind of housing resources we’d be able to provide to transgender women- if any at all. That’s one way that I used a lot of what I learned in the Intergroup Dialogue course.”
She used more of what she learned when she joined the Peace Corps in 2010. She served in Togo, West Africa, as a Community Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention worker. Continuing her work in LGBT communities, Dupont helped develop a Gay/Straight Alliance and Diversity Committee. The GSA was mostly secret at first, since homosexuality is illegal in Togo. “Homosexual men could go to prison and there was fear of violent retaliation,” she said. “It wasn’t something we could talk about in our villages as volunteers. The majority of volunteers were LGBT-friendly and needed a safe place where we could talk about values conflicts from village life. We organized these confidential meetings once a quarter to have discussions about LGBTQ issues. Eventually, we got funding from Peace Corps headquarters to sponsor the first international workshop on improving conditions for LGBTQ volunteers within the agency.”
Dupont also collaborated on the creation of a handbook for Peace Corps to help the organization support LGBTQ volunteers more effectively. The handbook was revised by Peace Corps headquarters and is being circulated around the world.
This fall, Dupont started medical school at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. She intends to continue blending her interests in health and social justice throughout her study of medicine. Though only in her first year of medical school, she envisions working as a family doctor in underserved communities both domestically and abroad, and is particularly interested in improving medical care for transgender patients.