In early October, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) hosted a Queer History Talk Back event, which featured three Cal State LA professors, who all identify in some way to the LGBTQ community.
October is LGBT History Month, and this event was meant to celebrate that.
Dr. Cynthia Wang from the Communications Department was the first to respond, sharing how professors struggle to find queer students to share culture and history with.
“A lot of our stories and a lot of our spaces, due to gentrification and urbanization, have erased a lot of that history and erased our bodies,” Wang said.
When Wang received the invitation to this event, it was a way for her to become more involved in the queer community on campus.
Dr. Hasmik Arakelyan from the Department of Psychology, the second faculty member to speak, also shared the sentiment.
“It’s so important to attend queer events, to get to know other queer people on campus,” Arakelyan said.
Zachary Vernon Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, the final panel member, also highlighted community as one of the main reasons he accepted the panel.
“A big part of our story is love and it’s great and wonderful, but unseen and hidden,” Vernon said. “So for me, it’s about learning to be part of a community in the present by understanding what we’ve been through as a community in the past.”
The conversation focused on understanding how code works within the queer community. Using phrases like “Are you a friend of Dorothy?”began to be used as early as World War II. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in the United States. Using this phrase has allowed other queer people to connect and find community without fear of being detected by straight people.
Yet community wasn’t the event’s only priority. Compassion was also another theme.
Wang remarked how important it is to understand intention when it comes to pronouns.
Rather than getting angry, Wang said to lead with compassion.
“When someone makes an effort, they want to learn,” Wang said. She reminded them that coming to terms with their sexuality and gender identity was a journey; therefore, leading with kindness and compassion is essential to help educate others about preferred pronouns.
Panel moderator Ashley Gregory, a fourth-year history student, works at the GSRC.
Gregory arrived at Cal State LA in the fall of 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic made her college career distant.
“I had just started transitioning,” Gregory said. “I am [male to female]. I have been in transition for three years. When I first came into this space, I was a little raw; I had been bullied a lot in high school just because I was queer.
Gregory said the GSRC gave her the comfort of being herself, which she hoped the event would do for others.
“If I can give that back to other people, that’s all I really want to do,” Gregory said. “Whether that happens through events, like our story panel we had today, or just hanging out in the space we have. Whichever way it turns out, it makes me happy.
For Dayna Hewlett, a fourth-year business student, she felt that “it’s important that queer voices spread across campus.”
Hewlett said she didn’t know queer history, but this event gave her “a bit more perspective.”
The GSRC also gave Hewlett its sense of community at Cal State LA.
“I feel like I’ve gained a lot of friends,” Hewlett said. “I gained a lot of confidence. I won these people with whom I share a lot of time. I go there every day, basically. So yes, I found my people.
For other students, the event gave them the opportunity to explore different aspects of their personal sexuality. Such was the case with Stephanie Espinosa, a music education major.
Espinosa said it’s unclear where she stands with her sexuality.
“I feel like this event was just kind of a dip in my toe,” Espinosa said.
She said she wanted to see if there was anything more she resonated with during this event to help her understand better.
Commercial Music student Kristy Pacheco attended the event with Espinoza.
Pacheco, who uses the pronouns she and they, said they wouldn’t have been as likely to witness this in high school.
“I still had a hard time accepting myself,” Pacheco said. “I was surrounded by a lot of heterosexual norms and heteronormativity, especially where I lived. So it wasn’t talked about a lot. Even though there were a few queer people, they were pretty much outcasts.
The main takeaway for them, however, was to “recognize how far we have come from the past”.
“It’s always good to look back, even if it’s uncomfortable, just so you can see we’ve made so much progress,” Pacheco said. “Just being able to sit in this room with a group of queer people, in this space, talking about these things, makes me reflect on my own story.”
The event is just one of many events the GSRC is hosting for LGBT History Month. For more information, visit the GSRC in the U-SU to find out what other programs and events are coming up.