Appalachian State Fires LGBTQ+ Staff Amidst Rollback of DEI Initiatives

by Kate Horgan

Four leaders of a queer affinity group at Appalachian State University have been fired, according to the article “Firing of LGBTQ+ Staff Leaders Raises Questions,” published on March 29, 2024, by Johanna Alonso for Inside Higher Ed. The terminations were sudden, and the only explanation given was that North Carolina is an at-will state. Employees say that the university appears to be restricting some language and events centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Joy Liwanag covered the story for the University Herald on April 1, titled “Appalachian State Faces Backlash Over Firing LGBTQ+ Staff Leaders Without Explanation.” A day later, the High Country Press summarized the pushback from the Graduate Student Government Association and Appalachian State College Democrats. Shortly after, Teen Vogue also picked up the story.

While North Carolina’s government has yet to pass DEI bans like Florida and Texas have, it’s not the first state to scale back. Inside Higher Ed cites the University of Oklahoma as an example; they announced the closure of their DEI office on the same day the governor ordered programs to be reviewed and only keep necessary ones.

According to the article, “In March 2023, a General Assembly Commission requested information about DEI trainings and their cost to the University of North Carolina system’s institutions… But Appalachian State denies it is taking any steps to reduce or eliminate DEI programs.”

The terminations of employees began in March of 2023 and continued throughout September, October, and March 2024. The affected individuals note terminations were not limited to members of the Queer and Trans Staff and Faculty group (QTSAF)—which was founded in 2021 and merged with a low-profile existing group—but there was a pattern of intolerance. One of the affected employees has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The group leader fired this month served as director of DEI educational development and campus climate strategies at the university. They report recently being instructed to “remove certain words—including ‘unconscious bias,’ ‘intersectionality’ and ‘microaggression’—from the DEI trainings they delivered to campus community members.”

The censored terms line up with the General Commission’s indicators of DEI-related programs. The university did not deny restricting those words but maintained it was not intended to stifle DEI. Allegedly, the school also canceled a student-run drag trivia event for having “drag” in the event’s name and also took “pride” out of the description for that week’s queer-focused events.

As of April 2024, no corporate outlets, other than Teen Vogue, have reported on this story.

Sources:

Johanna Alonso, “Firing of LGBTQ+ Staff Leaders Raises Questions,”  Inside Higher Ed, March 29, 2024.

Joy Liwanag, “Appalachian State Faces Backlash Over Firing LGBTQ+ Staff Leaders Without Explanation,” University Herald, April 1, 2024.

Sam Garrett, “Appalachian State College Democrats Release Update Following Appalachian State University Graduate Student Government Association Resolution,” High Country Press, April 2, 2024.

Student Researcher: Nicole Mendez-Villarrubia (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)