SMC clubs join together to promote equality through diversity

GSA, F.I.E.R.C.E., and P.R.I.D.E. are three different clubs at SMC with one thing in common: LGBT support. Though many may stereotype them as strictly "Gay Clubs," all three clubs hold separate identities and roles in the SMC campus community. The Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club was the first LGBT club to form at SMC, but was inactive during the spring semester of 2009, allowing P.R.I.D.E. (People Representing Individuality & Diversity through Empowerment) to form in its place.

After conflicts arose between members in P.R.I.D.E., F.I.E.R.C.E. (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community/Culture Empowerment Club) was formed. Last semester GSA was brought back to life, regrouping another LGBT Club to attend Club Row. It is their second semester back and GSA feels that the atmosphere on campus is slightly more tolerant toward gender and sexuality issues than it was before, but still has a hint of ignorance.

"There are a lot more people who are accepting of us, but we do come across people who call us names," says club president Efrain Santiago. "I used to pass by three people near the locker room who would say mean things, but I just ignored it." P.R.I.D.E. Club agrees. President Jesse Quintanilla is proud of his sexuality, and defiantly wears stiletto boots and NYC lip-gloss. "I hear people yell things all the time like, 'Oh my God, is he wearing heels?" he said.

He feels people choose to be ignorant of the struggles LGBTs face daily, and unceasingly stereotype gay people in a black and white sense.

"I don't want to conform myself to one thing," he said. "If I wear pink, why does it have to affect my masculinity?"

Other than addressing gender issues, all three clubs offer outreach programs that specifically help students who are looking for encouragement.

GSA offers access to many different community support groups, like the Trevor Projects, a suicide prevention workshop and hotline for those who identify as LGBT. One Trevor Projects' exercise involves requires making a list of the 10 most loved and important people in their lives, and then slowly choosing whom to eliminate one by one.

"It was really hard because it made you think about all the things you're giving up if you commit suicide, " said Alberto Prado, the club's historian. All three clubs also participated in the AIDS/HIV and STD presentations to inform members of the risk of spreading these diseases and how to use certain safety measures, like condoms. P.R.I.D.E. President Quintanilla decided to take the former club president Michael Baumwohl's social movement and direct it toward political change this semester.

"Pride isn't initially a gay club," he said. "Its purpose is to ultimately unite everyone and raise social consciousness and awareness of the issues all around us, not just gay issues." Quintanilla explained that he had always wanted to create a club that allowed LGBT's to socialize, but still focused on everyone's individuality and stayed away from stereotyping. All social events P.R.I.D.E. coordinates involve the participation of other allied clubs. For example, Quintanilla reports that for Pride Week last week on the main campus, about 18 clubs were involved.

"Yes we are different, but we are individuals that can still relate to everyone," he said.

P.R.I.D.E. also works with ALAS (Association of Latin-American Students), the club that Quintanilla credits for getting him interested in student organizations. F.I.E.R.C.E. is commonly mistaken as an LGBT club, but according to its president Jorge Valdovinos, it is actually a "diversity club." Valdovinos says that F.I.E.R.C.E. actually has more heterosexual members than homosexual ones.

"Our purpose is to give each individual a sense of diversity, but to be accepting of difference, whether it is color, size, or sexual preference," he said. Although this is their first semester as a club at SMC, the club has about 85 members, and about 25 currently active members. F.I.E.R.C.E. also has two committees: a Gender Committee and an Ethnic Committee.

The Gender Committee's purpose is to "help the cause," according to Valdovinos, such as helping homosexual members accept themselves as well as questioning people who aren't accepting. At one club meeting, the Gender Committee discussed the topic of AIDS/HIV and STDs. Lopez says that the Ethnic Committee deals with issues apart from LGBT. For example, when the Arizona Immigration issues came out, the Ethnic Committee hosted discussion topics with the club members.

"The committee really played its part on that issue," said Lopez. There is a longstanding history within the club as well. Club President Valdovinos and Vice-President Philipe Lopez have been friends since they were 17 years old.

"Jorge and I became friends in high school because we knew we were both gay, so we both had a friend there to support each other," said Lopez. "With the people we were hanging out with and the places we would all go, it was just obvious we were both gay." Santiago has known he was gay since he was a little kid, but didn't come out until he was a junior in high school. "I was who people wanted me to be until I was a junior, then I came out about my sexuality and now I'm who I want to be," he said.

Although his mother and father have a difficult time accepting his sexuality, Santiago finds comfort in his friends and club members who support him. He decided to become the GSA President this semester after last semester's president failed to be active enough.

"I thought, 'I want to do this, and hopefully I can make a change,'" he said. "I really want to make an impact on someone's life. Even just helping people is a start."