~ Ben Cartwright is the Government Executive Assistant for SDSU’s Associated Students. This column was originally published in SDPIX.
I almost drove my car off the freeway the other day when I saw something shocking on San Diego State University’s bright freeway sign along interstate 8. As I was about to exit College Avenue heading toward the campus, I glanced up at the sign and saw the word “Queer.” I did a double-take and then noticed it was an ad promoting the upcoming “Queer People of Color Conference” that will take place at SDSU on May 8.
More than just being startled by this, I was actually screaming with joy inside my head. Being a part of the SDSU community for almost 12-years as a student, alumni, and staff member, I clearly recall the battles we have fought over the years to gain recognition of the LGBT community at what is known as the region’s oldest, largest, most diverse university.
I worked alongside dozens of student and faculty-staff activists since I entered SDSU as a freshmen in 1998 to make the campus a more welcoming place for the LGBT community … I recall a campus climate study that was released by the university in the late 1990’s that claimed there was “0% homophobia” on the campus … I remember being treated like I was insane when advocating for the creation of a permanent LGBT center on the campus. I recall the hurdles we went through to get SDSU’s first Rainbow Flag Raising Ceremony approved, and the university’s refusal to advertise the event to the general public … SDSU used to expect the school’s LGBT student groups to handle and pay for the school’s participation in the annual Pride Parade, while parades celebrating other groups received the full support and coordination by various university departments … We fought and fought and fought…and now, SDSU has become an incredibly safe space for LGBT students and employees.
Other than the “Dear Harvey” play that was performed at SDSU last Fall, never before has the University advertised an LGBT event on its’ most prominent advertising mechanism. Beyond that, they just jumped right over the “safe” LGBT terminology, and threw the word “Queer” right up there.
As a major public university, SDSU is concerned about its’ image. The university’s constituents include all sorts of students, faculty-staff, alumni, and community members who all hold varied backgrounds, political ideologies, and beliefs. For the university to so proudly promote this important conference, without being concerned about the potential for complaints or backlash, they are showing a true commitment to the LGBTQ community.
It is important for students to feel like they are accepted and welcomed at their school. They are more likely to get involved, succeed, and not drop out. Employees who work in an environment where they feel accepted are likely to have higher morale and be more productive. SDSU is doing the right thing.
To everyone who has been involved in the fight for equality at SDSU, all the way back to the days of the 1970 Gay Liberation Front, give yourself a pat on the back. You are a part of the progress and supportive environment that now exists on campus.
I am now truly PROUD to be an Aztec!