SJVC supports LGBTQ students, graduates, staff and faculty
June is recognized as Pride Month, when the nation’s promise of equality, liberty and justice for all is reaffirmed for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community.
SJVC recognizes the challenges of isolation, discrimination and oppression that many members of the LGBTQ community face throughout their lives and want to lend support and encouragement to all who seek a safe haven in which they might pursue their education and career goals.
As SJVC’s Vice President of Enrollment and Graduate Services, Anthony Romo oversees leadership of the Admissions, Financial Services and Career Services departments for the college. As a gay man, Anthony also influences positive communication and effective support systems for all students, with pointed consideration for those in the LGBTQ community.
How much importance does SJVC place on diversity?
We launched a 4-year project to identify SJVC’s core values and ‘diversity’ surfaced as an essential piece of our identity. It’s what makes us tick. Many of our students are minorities, so diversity is in our DNA.
We have a diversity equity and inclusion committee that serves as an Advisory Board to our campuses and organization. This committee surveys, engages and educates various groups within the college. They serve as a great resource to our employees and students.
What sort of Diversity Training does SJVC implement that supports the LGBTQ community?
Everyone affiliated with the college is a big part of the ‘voice’ that gets out there. The committee works with leadership at campuses where they discuss the importance of diversity on campus and learn how to better educate on issues that affect a minority group. We learn how we are meeting that standard as a college through shared feedback.
Each campus has its own committee extension that represents the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and steers information and activities of support.
How does SJVC create a safe space for LGBTQ students, staff and faculty?
While we won’t have every (LGBTQ) student participating in a committee or group like this, having this representation is key for those students. And this awareness is important because it saves lives – both literally and in their sense of self. Suicide rates for this population (LGBTQ) are very high, especially with youth.
Each campus provides an atmosphere where it is safe to talk about their particular issues. Growing up, for me as a gay kid, these groups didn’t exist. You didn’t talk about it; you had to figure it out for yourself.
I’m proud that SJVC put me – their first LGBTQ Hispanic on their Senior Leadership Team. That they would know that diversity is important and take that step – that awareness and acceptance is important. Creating this awareness – sometimes that’s all it takes to encourage someone to be more accepting of themselves or to ‘come out’.
What is it like to ‘come out’?
I was eighteen and for every birthday since I was five years old, I blew out the candles wishing that I was not gay. There are not a lot of tools out there or a handbook for coming out. For me it was an Economics teacher and seeing him as a thriving, successful (gay) adult. To be ‘out’ and still have the career they want, the life they want. That example made me feel I wasn’t alone. It gave me confidence to take the next step: coming out to my family.
I also had to learn that my family had to get ready for a sense of loss – the loss of the person they thought they had known for so long. To have family look beyond themselves and appreciate what a big step it is for their child… that moment changes families forever. My family let me say who I am and did not look away. Their first response was, ‘OK, I love you’.
Most importantly, I finally accepted myself. This is why we call it ‘coming out of the closet’. It’s claustrophobic, dark, quiet and very lonely. I learned how much more I can give, not being in that space.
What kinds of issues do gay parents have to deal with on a day-to-day basis?
I am a gay father of three (with husband Christian) and something as simple as going to a restaurant or public area, my husband and I have to figure out a way to change a diaper. All the changing tables are in the women’s restroom. The assumption is that moms change the diapers and fathers do not. Or, if a gay man wants to donate blood there are several restrictions. The assumption is that he is somehow connected to illnesses. And the current regulation is that he has to disclose sexual orientation and answer intrusive questions about sexual history — questions that heterosexual people do not have to answer.
My husband and I have had hospital security called on us because we both identified ourselves as father of our child. There’s no room on the form for Father/Father or Parent/Parent; it’s always Father/Mother. Our kids will come of age and see that this (‘traditional’) family does not represent their family. That marginalization is the significant part; and my fear as a parent is that my child is going to feel different. As a parent, it’s more about education and I’m more sensitive to it. As a kid, they’re more resilient.
What has your experience as a LGBTQ employee at SJVC been like?
The workplace has evolved a lot in the last ten years. When I first joined SJVC I couldn’t have legally married my husband. (Same sex marriage was legalized in CA in 2013.) When I first interviewed, I knew the signals I needed to provide, such as ‘I am relocating with my boyfriend to Bakersfield’. There didn’t appear to be any hiccups. In fact, I was welcomed with open arms.
Probably 3 months after I joined the team I was asked if I would be interested in doing some type of workshop about the LGBTQ community for our campus staff, faculty and students – an open workshop. To have an employer be proactive like that on sensitive issues and wanting to discuss them – that was huge for me. The name of my presentation was ‘Coming Out of the Cubicle’. It was not only rewarding for me, but I got to have the chance to educate folks – not changing minds – just educate.
Having a company that not only believes in diversity but acts on it…I could not ask for more, coming from the LGBTQ community. I’m really blessed with my situation and my leaders.
What advice would you give to someone in the LGBTQ community who struggles with their identity, fears or acceptance?
Talk to somebody who can work with you on what you’re dealing with. Find someone who can just listen – not give advice or give a solution. When you have to process this alone and bottle this stuff up for years, it will eat you up — and that’s a scary situation. Find someone or something that is a supportive outlet that can support your growth. Find an ally in a safe environment.
What are some of the most promising changes on the horizon for the LGBTQ community?
We need to look at the mental health attention to our youth – teens and parents who might not know how to deal with this and who need coping mechanisms. Additionally, the trans community is just now starting to get their recognition for change.
We really ought to be proud of progress, even though it’s small in some areas because it is still a very sensitive topic.
What does Pride Month mean to the LGBTQ community?
It all began in June 1969 with the Stonewall riots in New York. Ongoing raids to the LGBTQ bars and restaurants reached a peak and the community decided to take a stand. After much unrest, this moment in history launched a movement. The first Gay Pride began in major cities the following year to memorialize these events and bring awareness to LGBTQ rights.
‘Pride Month’ invites awareness, education, acceptance and pride to our communities. It’s about those who worked hard to get us to where we are. It’s about learning and remembering those we lost during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. More important, it’s about showing love and acceptance.
It’s not so much about us being different, but more about how much we are the same.
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