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June 14, 2021

Riley Is a Champion for CMU’s LGBTQIA+ Community

By Bruce Gerson

Noah Riley is standing a little taller these days. Pride Month, the worldwide celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community every June, lifts him up and makes him proud.

“For me it’s all about visibility,” said the trans masculine, queer and nonbinary health promotion specialist in University Health Services. “I’m challenging gender norms 12 months a year in a very visible way, but this is a monthlong embracement of that more broadly. It’s a chance to be more visible and to feel safe doing so, while also honoring the history of those who have made that safety possible. It’s also an opportunity to remind folks that there are still many places where it is not safe for someone to live authentically as LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

Riley has been a leading champion and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community at Carnegie Mellon since joining UHS as a full-time staff member five years ago. Looking to connect with other members of the trans community, he co-founded the Trans, Intersex, Nonbinary Alliance (TINA). After starting out with a few faculty, staff and students, TINA has grown to include more than 60 members from across campus.

TINA’s purpose is two-fold.

“Our first and primary role is to support one another and to be there for each other. The second one is advocacy, whether it’s issues at CMU or in the broader community. The goal is to affect change,” he said.

Some of those changes involve increasing access to all-gender restrooms at CMU and reforming commercial plumbing codes in Allegheny County to help allow that to happen.

Looking to connect with other members of the trans community, he co-founded the Trans, Intersex, Nonbinary Alliance (TINA).

“CMU’s All-Gender Restroom Committee is doing great work and I’m really hopeful of what’s to come,” said Riley, a member of the committee. “I know the frustration that many students and colleagues have walking from one building to another just to access an appropriate bathroom.”

TINA is also working to modify identity management systems to better accommodate members of the trans community — male and female designations aren’t enough — and supporting opposition to a Pennsylvania bill that would prevent trans athletes from competing on teams of their gender. Riley said TINA members will be meeting with Director of Athletics Josh Centor and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Wanda Heading-Grant to talk about how CMU can support trans athletes.

Noah Riley at a Queer Craft Market in 2017Riley at a Queer Craft Market during Pride Month in 2017.

Riley is leading support for the LGBTQIA+ community as a Staff Council representative as well. He is a member of Staff Council’s newly formed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee, and is chair of the Wellness Committee, which recently published its first newsletter promoting wellness resources and events for the CMU community.

As a health promotion specialist, Riley, who earned a master’s degree in public health at the University of Pittsburgh and is a certified health education specialist, counsels and educates students on topics such as stress, sleep, mental health, sexual relationships and alcohol and substance abuse. He runs the Peer Health Advocates (PHA), a group of student employees who host events to educate their peers across campus and encourage healthy lifestyles. Riley also directs CMU’s Green Dot bystander intervention program, which trains students, faculty and staff on techniques to prevent dating violence, sexual violence and stalking.

“There’s quite a bit of variety in what I do and the ways in which I work can be pretty interesting,” he said. “I may be working with our PHA students one day to plan a late-night event to help decrease stigma around sexual health and relationship conversations, and the next day I might be involved in strategic planning for our division’s DEI plan. No two days are the same.” 

“I want people to take the opportunity [Pride Month] to learn and explore what they know, and to question and challenge the biases and assumptions they have about LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

The pandemic brought him another role as a member of CMU’s contact tracing team.

“One of the things I liked and appreciated about doing this was I was able to use my previous grad school experience working in a call center,” he said. “I wrote the scripts for the contact tracers and structured it in a way that worked for our interviewers.

“I was glad to be part of that experience. Contact tracing is an important aspect of public health and understanding the origin of the disease and helping to prevent further spread. It was a good learning experience.”

Riley said during his time at CMU, he’s had to provide a learning experience for colleagues.

“I’ve educated a lot of colleagues about the trans experience and identity. I can only speak of my own experience, and that may be very different from other trans, queer and nonbinary staff at CMU, but largely, I’ve found the climate here to be generally accepting. However, there’s a lot of growth, knowledge and understanding to be had,” he said.

And Riley hopes that continues with Pride Month.

“I want people to take the opportunity to learn and explore what they know, and to question and challenge the biases and assumptions they have about LGBTQIA+ individuals,” he said. “I hope it’s a stepping off point for many people to learn and grow.”

Riley also has a message for LGBTQIA+ staff members.

“Those who are out and those who are not, know that you are not alone. Make Pride Month what you need it to be for you.”