Fairfield U. program supports gay, lesbian students
Events planned in conjunction with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning History Month at Fairfield University this year for the first time are being coordinated into a month-long program involving students, faculty and the university administration.
LGBTQ History Month events include a mix of films and speakers that are open to the public free of charge. The series began Wednesday with a panel discussion on the topic, "Out of the Workplace," focusing on being openly gay in the workplace and strategies for career success while embracing diversity.
Gilbert Baker, the creator of the LGBTQ community's iconic rainbow flag, will speak about human rights, activism and his place in history Oct. 21.
In previous years, several student groups and university departments organized their own separate programs in the month of October to coincide with LGBTQ History Month. "We wanted to centralize it," Meredith Marques, associate director of student diversity programs, said of this year's effort.
"It's important for students to know that they are supported by staff, faculty, everyone at the university," said David Gudelmas, an associate professor of communication, whose research focuses on the representations of gay men and lesbians. Gudelmas will introduce one of the films presented this month and facilitate a post-screening discussion.
Gudelmas said Fairfield University -- administered by the Jesuit order of Roman Catholic priests -- was recently ranked by the Princeton Review as the 19th most unfriendly campus toward gays and lesbians, but added that "perceptions lag behind reality." Gudelmas said the reality is that Fairfield U. is a "wonderfully supportive place "and the university encourages discussion on these topics even if everyone doesn't agree."
"The university feels it's important that we dispel some of the myths or misunderstandings that people have when it comes to the fact that Fairfield University is a Catholic institution," Marquez said. Some people mistakenly assume that, because of its religious affiliation, Fairfield U. is not a welcoming or inclusive institution, she said. "We want to make it very clear that Fairfield University is a safe place for all students and embraces all students," she said.
"We want to tangibly support those students that come from under-represented populations," Marquez said.
The series of events took on greater significance when it was revealed last week that a Rutgers University freshman committed suicide on Sept. 22 after he was "outted" by fellow students in a very public way. Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in New York City after his roommate and another student streamed live video onto the Internet of Clementi engaged in a sexual encounter with a man. The two have been arrested on charges of invasion of privacy and law-enforcement officials are considering whether the two will face additional hate crime charges.
Similarly, 13-year-old Asher Brown of Texas, who was bullied because of his sexual orientation, on Sept. 23 took his own life, and Seth Walsh, also 13, of California, killed himself Sept. 28 after being bullied for the same reason.
Bernard Daraz, 21, a senior English major and president of Alliance, a student advocacy organization for Fairfield University's LGBTQ population, said in this technologically advanced age, what happened to Clementi could happen to anyone anywhere. All the more reason to hold such series of events as LGBTQ History Month to give a voice to those who don't feel they can speak for themselves, he said.
In light of those recent tragedies, putting a spotlight on LGBTQ History Month does take on greater significance, Marquez said. "We need to not only say that we support students but show them that we do. By providing these events and then turning out as a university community, it's a way that we can show our LGBTQ students, as well as students who have LGBTQ family members, that we are a community that cares about everyone," Marquez said.
"We have progressed as a society when it comes to the rights of gay people across this country but we are, by no means, at a point where we don't have to talk about this any more. We very much have to keep this at the forefront," she said.
"It's taboo in any environment but it's important to talk about it, and provide visibility and support for all gay and lesbian students and faculty," Gudelmas said.
Among the LGBTQ History Month events at Fairfield University are:
"¢ "Writing, (Homo)Sexuality and Race in the Andes," a lecture by O. Hugo Benavides, associate professor of anthropology and director of the master's program in humanities and sciences at Fordham University, at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14, in the Kelley Center presentation room.
"¢ Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag, will speak about human rights, activism and his place in history at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Fireside Commons at 42 Bellarmine Road.
"¢ "All Love: An LGBTQ Film Series," presents the following films on three consecutive Tuesdays, at 7 p.m., beginning October 12, in the DiMenna-Nyselius Library multimedia auditorium on the lower level of the library: "Were the World Mine" on Oct. 12; "But I'm a Cheerleader," Oct. 19, and "Prodigal Sons," Oct. 26.
For more information and a detailed slate of LGBTQ History Month events, visit www.fairfield.edu.