Professor Olivia Moy, of the College’s English department, is on a mission to revitalize a dormant student group that she believes is a critical “source of solidarity” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students on campus. Thanks to her efforts, a new club—the LGBTQ+Alliance—now exists.
When Moy learned that no such group existed—a similar organization, the Rainbow Alliance, disbanded several years ago—she wanted to re-establish one that could support the Lehman community. Last month, she sent an email to former students to collect signatures of those who might want to join or participate in the new group. “In these politically confusing times,” she wrote in the email, “I find it so important that we support our peers, and that we reaffirm our mutual respect for one another, and that we openly advocate for all our basic human rights.”
Which is why President José Luis Cruz’s campus-wide email on February 24, in response to the federal government’s decision to rollback transgender students’ rights, was so welcomed by the members of the LGBTQ+Alliance. “We will use this turn of events as motivation to redouble our efforts to ensure a safe, non-discriminatory campus environment for our transgender community members, acknowledge and respect each person’s chosen gender identity, make sure that access to campus facilities according to one’s gender identity is upheld, and raise our voices to ensure that these protections are available to all Americans regardless of where they happen to live, work, or study,” President Cruz wrote.
At a recent meeting of the Lehman LGBTQ+Alliance, some of the new club officers, including faculty advisors Moy and English Professor Justin Porter Stephens, discussed the organization’s wide-ranging goals and plans for its first open meeting later this month.
“The election really reminded us of the need to organize, of the need for solidarity,” said Porter Stephens. “When something bad happens, you have a support group that can rely upon each other.”
Moy says that the club’s mentoring program would be available to young members of the organization’s who could benefit from contact with LGBTQ alumni. “It doesn’t have to be a clinical experience,” said Gabriella Walrath, the club’s social media director. “It’s someone who has been through this before, and can talk to you about it.”
The officers who attended the meeting said they generally felt the Lehman community had been supportive of them, but they have experienced incidents of homophobia around the Bronx. “Some of these instances included verbal attacks on the street late at night, or even seeing rude comments with homophobic language written on the margins of textbooks,” said Moy.
Every student in the club has their own coming out story—or in the case of two sisters, a non-coming out story. Deirdre and Zoe Fanzo are openly gay students, and president and secretary respectively, of the new LGBTQ organization. Zoe pointed out that in her Bronx family, three of the four Fanzo siblings are queer.
“We never had to come out to our mom, that’s just not something that we had to do,” she said. “I think that surprised a lot of people in the club; we’re all coming in with different experiences. There was no assumption that we were straight.”
Others in the group have had a more difficult road with coming out. A male student from India never had the cultural freedom to do so in his homeland. But when he moved to New York, he found support and freedom from living with a gay couple who served as his host family.
According to the club’s newly drawn constitution, its most important goal is “to provide a welcoming safe space for LGBTQ students.”
“We want to attack problems with brains, and scholarship, and discussion,” said Moy.