La Verne LGBT community shares their stories

Ebony Williams, assistant director of the Academic Success Center, shares a personal anecdote at the Stories of Our Lives event April 14 via Zoom. The event, sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Services, featured several speakers sharing their stories based on the LGBT experience as part of the Gaypril series of events. / screenshot by Maddie Ybarra
Ebony Williams, assistant director of the Academic Success Center, shares a personal anecdote at the Stories of Our Lives event April 14 via Zoom. The event, sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Services, featured several speakers sharing their stories based on the LGBT experience as part of the Gaypril series of events. / screenshot by Maddie Ybarra

Lindsey Pacela
Staff Writer

As part of the University of La Verne’s recognition and celebration of Gaypril, the event “The Stories of Our Lives” was held April 14 over Zoom. It provided a safe and supportive place for speakers who worked at or attended the University to share their vulnerable and authentic stories regarding their identities and sexualities.

Misty Levingston, associate director of multicultural affairs and Black student services, mediated the event where 12 people shared their stories. Those who shared were professors, alumni and current students. During everyone’s introductions, they made sure to include their pronouns and some their sexualities as well.

The stories began with James Garcia, assistant professor of psychology, who openly shared his identity as a gay Latino man. He has often worked as a mentor at the University, where he best described his job as a way to reassure and validate people identifying within the LGBT community.

He said the number of faculty in the community at the University was low, but that was a reflection of society in general – something that needed to be focussed on actively as a society.

D. Hill, adjunct professor of photography and an artist, identified himself as a Black transgender man. He said he always believed he could bring people together, realizing that when he finally decided to love himself first, others could love him too for exactly who he is. His story trailed along his relationship with his mother, recollecting her fear for him.

He said his mother told him, “I don’t want someone to kill you because you found happiness.” She feared for his life, but also the loss of a daughter, when that was all she knew. He described how slowly but surely she began to change her dialogue and correct her pronoun use with him. Since then, their relationship has only improved, in turn improving Hill’s own well being.

“I can’t be the great educator I can be without loving myself first,” Hill said. “I encourage people to be open to whoever they are.”

Zandra Wagoner, university chaplain, spoke about her past, noting that now she is “out and ordained,” where her identity is valued and her livelihood is not at risk because of it.

“I was accused of being lesbian, a witch and a pagan,” Wagoner said.

She continued to say that people identifying within the community had been robbed of their spirituality, a true cultural asset, as spirituality and religion often go hand in hand.

Christian Bracho, associate professor of teacher education, calling himself a “recovering Catholic,” shared his past of a turbulent history between his mother and himself after coming out as gay. After his father’s death they became closer once again, and shortly before his mother’s death, Bracho said she openly wanted people to know that she had a gay son. His story made many of the attendees emotional, and many noted afterward how similar his story was to their own.

“I hope you can find that connection, it is so healing” he said, referring to his own restored relationship with his mother.

Andy Steck, associate professor of education and the LGBTQ+ Coalition leader, recalled his desire from a young age to be a father and a teacher. Coming from a small town, teaching and being openly gay was unacceptable for a long time. He had dealt with rumors, but ultimately decided to come out and later become a father of two daughters.

After interviewing at the University of La Verne, he said he decided to take a walk around campus, to see if it felt like a safe place to be an openly gay teacher. He spoke of seeing “safe zone” stickers on doors and feeling so happy. When he began his teaching position, he said one of his first students came up to him one day and said, “I am so glad I have a gay teacher,” making note of the rainbow triangle on his watch. He said that was when he truly felt relieved and accepted after those first few instances of being an openly gay teacher on campus.

“Be yourself, be true to who you are,” Steck said, with tears in his eyes and smile on his face.

The event was recorded and is available for viewing on YouTube at youtu.be/ooqkXQ3jung.

Lindsey Pacela can be reached at lindsey.pacela@laverne.edu.

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