Opinion: A look back at those who have embodied the history of LGBTQ community advocacy at CUNY
Sixty-three years ago this month, a young and unknown Audre Lorde joined the spring graduation ritual, graduating from Hunter College. She has become one of our nation’s most influential writers and a strong advocate for social justice, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQI+ rights. Along the way, the legendary poet, essayist, and activist taught at three CUNY colleges, including her alma mater, where she was a beloved, prominent teacher.
Fast forward to today: Andrea Alejandra Gonzales, a recent graduate of Baruch College at CUNY, has already been nationally recognized for her work advocating for social justice, including for the LGBTQI+ community. Gonzales, appointed last year by GLAAD as one of 20 Young people under 20 shaping the future, credits Lorde with having the greatest impact on their lives, inspiring them to continue to create safe and loving spaces for the LGBTQI+ community.
“She brought all aspects of her identity, her darkness, her homosexuality into her work as a poet, warrior and mother,” Gonzales told GLAAD. “Every time I read his lyrics or listen to one of his interviews, I feel inspired to continue working to dismantle oppressive institutions and liberate marginalized communities as my complete and authentic self.”
Lorde and Gonzales, among many others, embody the long history of advocacy for the LGBTQI+ community at the City University of New York, a legacy of which we are very proud. As we celebrate Pride this month, it’s important to make sure we support the next generation of leaders and activists – those, like Gonzales, who are working to ensure a more tolerant and accommodating society for all. One of the ways we do this at CUNY is by providing leadership and internship opportunities that ensure our LGBTQI+ students have the support they need to succeed.
We are privileged to have these leadership and internship programs benefit from the guidance and support of philanthropist Mitch Draizin, Founder and Chairman of the Concordia Philanthropic Fund, Chair of CUNY’s LGBTQI+ Advisory Board, and longtime advocate for the University’s LGBTQI+ community. . Draizin and the council, which has 140 members, play a crucial role in providing extra-curricular support and resources to our students. The council plans to launch a formal career mentoring program, focusing on career preparation and professional development, and matching students with council mentoring advisors. Draizin has worked hard to help bridge what he calls a “gap of support” that can hold back LGBTQI+ students.
“I personally witness the powerful and real impact our programs have on the lives of students,” Draizin said. “Our commitment to career, advocacy and leadership preparation has been achieved and will continue to grow.”
One such initiative, the CUNY LGBTQI+ Summer Internship Program, launched last year to provide professional engagement opportunities for LGBTQI+ students in the private, cultural and nonprofit sectors. The first cohort of students from City College of New York, Baruch College and LaGuardia Community College will begin participating this summer.
Also over the past year, the CUNY LGBTQI+ Advocacy Academy has trained selected students to serve as advocates and leaders through a non-credit certification course taught by Queens College Distinguished Lecturer Jimmy Vacca, a former member of the New York City Council of the Bronx. Course students engage with guest speakers while learning about LGBTQI+ history and community engagement.
Another program, the David Mixner Fellowship, offers $5,000 grant opportunities to work with organizations at the forefront of the LGBTQI+ rights movement. The scholarship is open to full-time undergraduate students at City College who identify as LGBTQI+ and wish to work on LGBTQI+ advocacy. Counselors work with selected students to connect them with organizations across the city and country, based on their areas of interest.
These initiatives are a proud continuation of CUNY’s rich history in LGBTQI+ advocacy, which also includes the establishment of the Center for LGBTQ Studies in 1991 at the CUNY Graduate Center. CLAGS is the first research center of its kind in the United States to be based in a university and serves to foster social change by sponsoring public programs, providing scholarships to scholars and functioning as a conduit for information on LGBTQI+ issues.
So it seems fitting that just weeks before the launch of Pride Month, the main intersection of Hunter College, E. 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, was co-named “Audre Lorde Way”, serving as a symbol of her pioneering legacy and the path that CUNY continues to blaze to ensure that there will always be a place here for many more Audre Lordes.