LGBT Students Reflect on Growing Community at FCLC


Published: October 21, 2010

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community at Fordham has gained visibility in recent months through a number of University policy changes. Last spring, we saw the extension of LDA (Legally Domiciled Adults) benefits for faculty members, and this fall students were invited to the new LGBT & Ally Network of Support programming, offered by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. However, even with increased institutional recognition, what LGBT students bring to their college experiences ultimately affects how they feel at Fordham.

At a time when the University is increasing available resources for LGBT members of the Fordham community, a sense of LGBT community has also developed among Fordham students who aim to create their own connections.

Since coming to Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), Dan Drolet, FCLC ’12 and president of Rainbow Alliance, has found a community that suits him through his work with Rainbow Alliance, a student-run club for LGBT members and allies.

Before coming out, Drolet didn’t think there were other people like him. “I didn’t know there were gay people. That’s why I was in the closet,” he said. “I joined a social support group [in high school] and I was like, ‘Wow this is my family. I feel closer to these people than anyone from home. I actually feel like I fit in.”

Mathew Rodriguez, FCLC ’11 and vice president of Rainbow Alliance, wanted to create more unity among LGBT students. “When I came to FCLC, I didn’t feel as if there was an LGBT community, just a scattered group of people who happened to identify as LGBT.”

The Rainbow Alliance was established at FCLC years ago, but Rodriguez said it had “gone off the radar.”

“I was asked to revive the Rainbow Alliance when I was a freshman, and I did. Ever since then, it’s been a slow process, and I finally feel as if there is a community in place,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez tried to make a name for the club through working with different departments. “The first event I did was a movie screening of “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which deals with homosexuality and the Bible, with Campus Ministry and the theology department.”

Being at FCLC has impacted LGBT students in different ways, sometimes changing the ways in which they understand their identities. According to some, education, location and the overall atmosphere of the student body have encouraged the individual growth of LGBT students and allowed an LGBT community to form.

“I have a very different understanding of my sexuality now than I did three years ago,” Rodriguez said. “I am learning so much more about myself now. I’ve seen the impact [on students] personally. I’ve seen them find a community that they might not have at another Jesuit institution.”

Drolet’s personal experiences in high school in New Hampshire influenced him to get involved on campus. “I don’t think everyone else had [my] experience; I came from [being] the only gay kid, to a community at home, to wanting to replicate that community here [at FCLC],” he said.

Other students found their community through means outside of Rainbow Alliance.

“I was a transfer and a commuter so I didn’t feel invited to the community,” said Ben Lebowitz, FCLC ’11.

Lebowitz, who came out during the summer of 2008 just before transferring to FCLC, is now a Resident Assistant in McMahon Hall and says he went from feeling excluded from the community to being immediately immersed in it.

“It’s interesting because if I was not in a leadership position I probably wouldn’t have sought out the LGBT community. I don’t really participate with Rainbow, but I do refer students to it.

“I will have a conversation with someone about these topics without a problem, but I’m not going to go to a support group because that’s just not the way I have ever dealt with my issues,” Lebowitz said. “That’s not my outlet. I’m more introverted like that.”

Matt Ortiz, FCLC ’12, has found his own community in New York City through friends, both LGBT and straight. “I think there is a community outside of [Rainbow Alliance] because it’s a lot easier to access groups outside of school,” Ortiz said.

He also said that growing up in Queens had an effect on his coming out during his junior year of high school. “I think [NYC] is much more diverse so it’s much easier to [come out],” he said.

For some students, coming to FCLC was a chance to explore. “I was the Q [questioning],” said Sophie Stanish, FCLC ’12. “I wanted to see what it was like, wanted to see if other people knew what I was feeling or knew what I was going through. The coming out process is lifelong; some people do it early; some people wait until much later. It feels very early to me.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture, “Coming out is a very subjective process, varying from person to person. Individuals may encounter a different hierarchy of steps, skip some steps entirely, or encounter something completely new and different.”

Stanish, who comes from a Catholic town in Pennsylvania, still struggles with this process. “It’s still an ongoing process for me; my family doesn’t know. I’m out at school and most of my friends at home know. I don’t know exactly how [my family] would react because they’re very Catholic.”

Organizations like Rainbow Alliance don’t emphasize exclusivity, but instead seek to welcome students of all sexualities. “The atmosphere of the club was different than I thought it would be,” Stanish said. “We are supportive of people. I thought it would be like we had to stay together as a community, but we are open with everyone.”

Jagpal (Sunny) Khahera, FCLC ’14, a straight member of Rainbow Alliance, explained his “newfound passion for being an ally” that began in high school.

“One of my sister’s best friends committed suicide because he was bisexual. He would get a lot of shit from people at school. It was shocking that at 11 years old, people were doing that. It really impacted me,” he said.

For Khahera, Rainbow Alliance is his strongest community. “I feel more comradery [at Rainbow Alliance] than any other place [at FCLC]. That’s the one place I can completely speak my mind and not be judged and I really appreciate that a lot.”

“There aren’t a lot of straight people in Rainbow Alliance,” Khahera said. “There definitely should be more; it would be nice to see more people supporting it. You need straight allies to get legislation passed.”

Drolet is incorporating academics as a further attempt to increase LGBT visibility by compiling a list of courses offered at both FCLC and Fordham College at Rose Hill that incorporate LGBT culture, whether it includes studying texts written by LGBT authors or analyzing literature from a “queer perspective.”

“A lot of people think there is a strong community, but not everyone feels accepted. I know a lot of people who are still in the closet [at FCLC]. I know especially lesbians feel a strong sense of invisibility,” Drolet said.

According to Stanish, students are more often inclined to associate the LGBT community with gay males, rather than gay females.

“It’s the truth,” she said. “People tend to notice more with guys, I guess. There definitely are a lot of girls here [who are members of the LGBT community]. It’s not that girls are quieter about it; I just think people are more apt to notice a guy than a girl.”

“I don’t try to hide who I am but people assume I’m straight before they get to know me,” Stanish said. “It happens more with a guy, [based on] how he’s dressed. It’s a stereotype.”

The Rainbow Alliance currently has 20 active members and also serves as an outlet for students to speak freely about their experiences to connect with other students. They plan events that highlight the LGBT community, such as teaming up with Amnesty International at FCLC to watch “A Jihad for Love,” a film that explores the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality, and visiting an LGBT-themed art exhibit in Chelsea. Their formal event of the year is their LGBT & Ally Prom.

“Many individuals didn’t feel comfortable bringing their guest to their prom in high school,” Drolet said. “Others didn’t feel comfortable having to wear certain gendered attire for their high school prom. With the LGBT & Ally prom, we hope to provide a chance to give people a prom experience they might have missed.”