SJVC staff support June’s Pride Month from a personal perspective
In support of Pride Month, SJVC employees Matthew Carter and Jon-Eric Garcia share their experiences as a gay, married couple and as beneficiaries and supporters of the college’s commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer) students, staff, and faculty.
Matthew is a Faculty Coach and Business Office Administration program instructor on the Visalia campus. Jon-Eric is a Financial Aid Technician at SJVC’s Central Education Office and co-chairs the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee for SJVC. The undercurrent of their position responsibilities – and that of all employees – carries a very specific message: SJVC supports staff, faculty, students and graduates and their success in every way it can.
The Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 in response to frequent raids on LGBTQ bars and restaurants launched a movement. Communities took a stand in an effort to bring awareness to LGBTQ rights. Within a year Gay Pride was established, and June’s Pride Month was created to focus attention on awareness, education, acceptance, and pride of that population.
What does Pride Month mean to the LGBTQ community?
Matt: It’s a moment to celebrate our strides as a community and to take a moment to appreciate where we were and where we are.
Jon-Eric: I always felt that it’s a time to allow the gay community to showcase their contributions to society…where we’ve been, what we’ve been through and the strides we’ve made. It’s the one time of the year we are put on center stage. We can really peel back the onion in understanding the role LGBTQ plays in the culture and the trials and tribulations this community has gone through.
What does SJVC do to support LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty?
Matt: SJVC recognizes the challenges of isolation, discrimination, and oppression that many members of the LGBTQ community face throughout their lives, and we want to lend support and encouragement to all who seek a safe haven in which they might pursue their education and career goals.
Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee meets once a quarter to focus on topics beneficial to faculty, staff, and students. We provide training for how to support our LGBTQ students and in Visalia we have an organization – The Source – that provides information about services and resources in the community for counseling, transmitted diseases information and other resources. It’s really an inclusive place to work.
We, also, have several initiatives at campus level and several events to celebrate Pride Month.
How does SJVC’s LGBTQ’s acceptance and support affect campus life?
Jon-Eric: Our diversity policies and practices give employees and students a sense of comfort where they can do their jobs and be in their programs without having to watch what you say (about personal life), so that you can focus on your job or completing your class well. We are here to help each other succeed – in your job or in your classroom.
Matt: SJVC support is vital. Having policies and committees gets the word out that we are here, and we welcome everyone to be themselves. This is a place where we can voice our concerns and collaborate on how to promote inclusion.
How have these policies and procedures affected you, personally?
Jon-Eric: When I first started at SJVC 5-years ago, I noticed that there was a sense of just being who you are without a fear of negative feedback. I sensed the diversity of employees and was able to identify with some who are LGBTQ. I didn’t feel alone in the company.
Matt: It’s a really inclusive place to work. I feel comfortable about saying the word ‘husband’, and it was not that many years ago we couldn’t do that so comfortably.
How have workplaces changed with greater acceptance of the LGBTQ community:
Jon-Eric: I can reference something about my personal life and say ‘husband’ and not have to say, ‘my other half’. It’s really nice to be able to refer to him that way and not get judged. It usually makes room for more dialogue, and I love that.
Matt: On our Academic Council we are revising forms that have a gender box: Male or Female. We need a third option, maybe ‘other’ to be sensitive to those needs or feelings (of identity).
What other changes would you like to see in support of the LGBTQ community:
Jon-Eric: California is a very big state on human rights, employee rights, and I would like to see every state in the US have more gay rights protections for employees. There are still states where you could be fired for being gay.
As a gay male, we aren’t allowed to donate blood. There are a lot of hoops to jump through. The best thing would be to remove those things that impede our ability to contribute. Giving blood is a beautiful thing.
What or who influenced you to ‘come out’?
Jon-Eric: I had been with Matt a long time and wanted to be secure in our relationship before I let my parents know. My stepdad already kind of knew in his head. They were all very accepting. You have to find people who support you and who you are, especially with family. It’s been a learning experience for my mom, but she’s welcoming Matt into my family.
Matt: It was always in my mind, too; just whenever I felt comfortable enough. We should always be ourselves, especially with family. Conversation about who I am and who I love – if that can’t be accepted – sorry, but you can’t be in my life.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their identity and potentially coming out?
Matt: Find an ally. Whether a family member, friend, a community service or program; find a support system to help you become yourself. There are resources now where you can express yourself in a safe place.
Jon-Eric: One of my things was…you have to come out when you’re ready. Feel comfortable with yourself and have that ally, someone you trust, with you as your support.
How can people who want to be more involved support the LGBTQ community?
Jon-Eric: Speak up, get involved, join a committee. Find a way to voice your concerns in a space that is accepting. Action is what it’s about. Ask a gay person how you can help.
Matt: It’s important to speak up without repercussions.
What do you hope to inspire in your coworkers and students?
Jon-Eric: One thing I want to convey to anyone I have interaction with, is that I am a safe space. One of the biggest hurdles for someone coming out is not having that one person they can come out to. I hope I’ve been that face, that sounding board, that guidepost.
Matt: It’s about providing some direction, some outlet for someone to be comfortable. We are not the spokesperson for the gay community. It’s just giving some grace when someone needs a place to go.
When you get to be who you are…that’s the most powerful thing you can be.
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