LGBT Awareness Week opened with a festive luncheon and guest speakers in Richard Harris Terrace, the room decorated with balloons and historical posters celebrating the theme, “Strength & Empowerment Through Diversity.
No to hate, Yes to fun
One of the program speakers, biology major Jham Valenzuela is President of LGBT for Success, a BMCC club which “provides a safe space,” he said, “where the LGBT community and straight allies can have open dialogue about homophobia, tolerance, family and other issues.”
Valenzuela also talked about the No Hate project he and others in the LGBT community at BMCC are involved in.
“We did a No-Hate shoot,” he said, with photographer Jared Jones. “Originally, No Hate was started to protest Proposition 8 [which opposed gay marriage] in California, but now it’s a way to show support for marriage equality.”
Valenzuela encouraged students to join these and other activities through the LGBT for Success club, and to take advantage of LGBT resources on campus.
“Come join the conversation and have some fun with us,” he said.
Safe Zone co-founder gives valuable tips
LGBT Awareness Week Committee Co-Chairs Danny Ambrose and Iris Wangpataravanich welcomed guests, and Dean of Student Affairs Michael Hutmaker introduced the event’s Guest Speaker and Honoree, Daniel Fictum, Director of Student Life & Development at New York City College of Technology (City Tech).
With his colleague Terri Clark, Director of City Tech's Student Wellness Center, Fictum founded the CUNY-wide Safe Zone program, which provides training for faculty and staff committed to tolerance, and interested in addressing concerns of LGBT students and their allies.
The luncheon honored the most recent group of BMCC staff and faculty members who had completed Safe Zone Ally training, and Dean Hutmaker, assisted by Virginia Gadson from the Women’s Resource Center presented each person with a Certification of Participation.
Sharing some of the concepts Safe Zone Allies cover in their training, Fictum provided tips for staff and faculty on how best to support LGBT students.
“First,” he said, “be open as a gay individual, or as an ally—in whatever level is comfortable for you.”
Sometimes, he said, being an ally means being able to say, “I don’t like that joke, I’m not comfortable with that.”
Other tips included, “Be willing to admit your ignorance,” and “include LGBT topics in the classroom.”
He gave some examples, asking rhetorically, “How can you talk about James Baldwin’s work, and not talk about him as a person? How do you talk about Tennessee Williams, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and not talk about Brick, the implied gay character?”
Also important, Fictum said, “is don’t assume all LGBT people are the same. They come from different backgrounds, different socio-economic experiences,” and, he said, “Don’t assume that a person’s gayness is their only identity.”
In closing, he added that, “Embracing gayness is about embracing people. It’s not a gay person, it’s a person who is gay.”
A poster exhibit, workshops and walking tour
Other events for the week included workshops on topic such as being “out” at work; domestic violence in LGBT relationships; the Trevor Project and suicide prevention; bystander intervention training, and bullying and technology.
New this year was a poster exhibit, Wall of Oppression, in the lobby of BMCC’s main campus building, presenting portrait photos of prominent LGBT figures throughout history, including politician Harvey Milk, activist Kate Bornstein, poet Audre Lorde, suffragette Jane Adams, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and others.
The week even included a Pride Walking Tour of the West Village—site of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and impetus for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Nationally renown researcher Dr. Susan Rankin speaks in closing event
Culminating the week, the CUNY Women’s Center Council presented at BMCC a talk by Dr. Susan Rankin, a nationally renown policy and research expert on issues related to the LGBT community.
An associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University and senior research associate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education, Rankin has published widely on the impact of sexism, racism, genderism, and heterosexism in the academy and intercollegiate athletics.
Her talk at BMCC referenced her groundbreaking research survey—involving 3,500 participants, one of the largest ever conducted in the U.S.—on gender development and identity-making among transsexual women, transsexual men, crossdressers, and genderqueer individuals.
Findings from that survey are discussed in a book she co-authored with Genny Beemyn, The Lives of Transgendered People, released in 2011 from Columbia University Press.