Progressing proudly

Facing another man and surrounded by friends, freshman Corey Campbell got married.

He participated in the symbolic “mock” marriage during Pride Week last month to make a political statement about equality. Chapman’s Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) made it possible.

More students have joined QSA during the past four years. This is a result of a change in leadership goals and a new focus on creating more awareness and acceptance for the community it serves: students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) and their heterosexual allies.

QSA’s pursuit of creating more events, encouraging member participation and activism, establishing resources and having advisors to facilitate dialogue has led students to feel a sense of belonging and more comfortable in the process of coming out, specifically for students who belong to the LGBTQI community on campus.

“I basically joined everything I could to get involved and active in the community,” Campbell said.

However, for LGBTQI students it has not always been easy to connect with each other based on the same beliefs and to become politically active. Four years ago, QSA was not the organization it is today.

Alumni Matthew Ladensack graduated last year and in 2008 was president of QSA. He chose to join the club to find a close group of gay friends and to rally for causes benefiting the LGBTQI community.

“QSA made a huge difference for me and it opened a lot of doors,” Ladensack said. “Without it, I would’ve been trying to find something – there would’ve been a void.”

But when he first joined the club the QSA seemed less like an organization and more of a casual place to hang out. There was not a lot of action, the few events that did happen were not fully planned and there was little cooperation with other clubs and organizations on campus, Ladensack said. When he assumed presidency his junior year, his primary goals were to broaden networking and increase enrollment.

“The Chapman community and current generations were becoming more accepting of QSA,” Ladensack said. “We needed to focus on rebuilding, reforming and regrouping.”

The biggest obstacle QSA had two years ago was networking and partnering up with other clubs for events and discussion panels, Ladensack said.

The biggest challenge came from the Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

“They refused to let us put on ‘Corpus Christi’, a play about a gay Jesus,” Ladensack said. “It could’ve opened up people’s lives.”

Senior Rosalinda Torres, a double-major in legal studies and sociology, joined QSA in the fall of 2005 when it was formerly called Gay Straight Alliance. Having held both titles of president and vice president, Torres also found, like Ladensack, that Chapman’s LGBTQI community was small and perhaps disinterested.

“The community was small, roughly five to seven members including the board, and at times it seemed as if most LGBTQI students didn’t care if QSA had a presence,” she said.

But once QSA began to work with other organizations on campus to increase their visibility and effectiveness, enrollment began to slowly grow and administrators started to show their support.

“At least in 2009, it expanded and became more politically active with Chapman Outlaw, from the law school, and the surrounding community,” Torres said. “There was also an increase in interaction with professors who identified as LGBT and the atmosphere on campus became more accepting. There were not as many students reporting offensive incidents.”

Both Ladensack and Torres also wanted to ensure during their leadership positions that QSA was a safe haven for students of the LGBTQI community.

“I learned of several [hate] incidents, but most of which occurred during my first two years,” Torres said. “There were students who were harassed for being transgender, and some didn’t feel safe decorating their dorm rooms because their roommates weren’t comfortable with their orientation.”

Senior Cortney Johnson began her participation and leadership roles with QSA in 2007. She attributes the organizations growth in membership, its increased visibility and community acceptance to the group’s decision to be more politically active and to the development of queer issues by other university departments.

“The community has gone from small and isolated to a little bit bigger and louder,” Johnson said. “This also has to do with the presence of Erin Pullin of Student and Campus Life.”

Pullin, program coordinator of diversity and equity initiatives for the Department of Student & Campus Life, began working at Chapman in September, 2008. Since then Pullin focused her energy on overseeing and directing the Safe Space program and committee, facilitating the Stonewall discussion groups for LGBTQI students and hosting guest lectures on relevant topics to the community.

“My initial impression of the community on campus at the time was that it was strong as a result of the leadership of some great students,” Pullin said. “The community is gaining more visibility from what I’ve witnessed.”

Pullin is a proponent for more than just students who are LGBTQI. Heterosexual allies have chosen to go through the department’s Safe Space training programs as well which last about two and one-half hours and focus on ally development and transgender workshops.

“The workshops number over 400 participants and we have 30 campus trainers at the moment,” Pullin said. Stronger efforts are being made to improve the campus climate for people of sexual and gender identities. Stonewall has provided a confidential and safe space for students who are just starting to come out.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jerry Price agrees that in working with the student affairs staff and QSA, a chilly campus climate has been avoided -in terms of hate incidents for LGBTQI students- and everyone is generally comfortable.

However not everyone is totally accepting of QSA’s members.

“There isn’t a lot of motivation, but there are more hidden things,” Price said. “Such as tearing down QSA posters or the defacing of Prop. 8 signs last year. Nowadays people are less comfortable coming out and lashing against the LGBTQI community.”

Senior Claudia Breña joined QSA in 2008 and has been on the forefront of fighting politically for equality and acceptance of the LGBTQI community.

“I represented QSA this year and with help we brought the exhibit ‘Love Makes a Family,’ which is displayed now at Leatherby Libraries,” Breña said. “I’m also an intern at Equality California. We go door-to-door talking about same-sex marriage with registered voters.”

Campbell, after coming out of the closet last summer, wanted to dedicate his time to the cause of equality. He joined QSA and is now the vice president elect.

“I know how many people are in the closet and need to know that everything is going to be OK,” he said. “I want to make Chapman a comfortable and welcoming place for the queer community.”

QSA meets each Tuesday at 8 p.m. More information about the club and its involvement on campus can be found online:

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