by Kyana #Mojica
#PRIDE!#Kent has been an integral part of Kent State University for more than 40 years, and welcomes a new president this year, Brandon #Stephens. Now that PRIDE! is transitioning its focus from LGBT rights to the more inclusive GSM (gender and sexual minority), Stephens is ready to make his own history with the famous organization.
What’s the purpose of PRIDE!?
PRIDE!’s purpose is to provide an environment in which everyone under the Gender and Sexual Minority umbrella and its allies can come and feel welcome and have this safe space in which everybody can learn. We also try to promote social acceptance.
What drew you to PRIDE! when you first started attending meetings?
I think the biggest factor that drew me into PRIDE! when I was a freshman was that it was a new experience for me. I grew up in a tiny area and we never had anything like that, so I thought it would be interesting to get involved in something like PRIDE! simply because it was a new experience.
What’s the one thing you want new members to know about you or PRIDE!?
I want everyone to know that I care about them and I consider them a part of my family. I would do anything possible for them to make their college experience a good one.
Why did you run for president of PRIDE!? Do you plan on running for president again next year?
I ran for president because making a difference, especially within the GSM community, is a passion of mine. Being an activist is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. Running for president and being elected allowed me to try to make a difference to an organization that means so much to me. If I do run again it won’t be for president. Something I believe strongly in is that being president for this organization is a one-term thing.
What are your future goals for PRIDE!?
I would like to see PRIDE! on more of an activist front and as a much louder voice on this campus. I want to see students within the Gender and Sexual Minority community make a difference in the university and really have their opinions be heard.
For you personally, growing up, did you feel like a part of this community? Did you face any hardships?
It was fairly easy. My parents and friends were accepting from the start. In fact, my oldest brother was the first person I told and he thought that I was joking with him. When he saw how serious I was being, it still didn’t matter. He accepted me anyway. But it was difficult in the sense that I didn’t know much about it. In my house, sex was never talked about. My brothers and I never got the sex talk. So I grew up not really understanding but as I researched it more myself, I came to the conclusion that it was totally fine.
Do you still feel you can connect with those people who did experience backlash coming out?
Because I had a good experience, it can be difficult to connect with others who haven’t had the same thing. At the end of the day, the thing that we have in common is that we are a minority. And that helps everyone connect and grow as people.
How do you feel about the GSM community within pop culture?
In terms of pop and hip-hop music, they are more open to the GSM community. Pop music is filled with stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Jessie J and Marina and the Diamonds, who are all accepting of us. In a lot of ways they stepped up their careers in vocalizing their support for the community. I would say in general that music is a good pedestal for artists to get the word out about the GSM community. As far as the media, movies, and TV goes, I think we have a little more ways to go. A lot of the time we see in TV and movies gay couples who are only pictured being funny, rather than in serious roles, and I think that’s something we have to improve on as a society.
What do you think about the real-life stereotypes that are reflected in the media?
It’s rough. Some of the stereotypes we see can be fairly accurate. In the country we live and the way that business works, you play on the stereotypes. Whether you’re writing about a straight or a gay person, you play on the stereotypes to make money. That’s just the way it works. It’s sad that in a lot of situations these people do what they have to do to make money. A lot of the times in the media we see your average white gay male. We don’t take the time to depict something like a black gay male. A lot of that feeds into these fears and problems, which we see within racial minority groups that are also within the GSM community.
What do you think is the biggest issue the GSM community faces today?
The biggest issues surrounding the GSM community, in my opinion, is the lack of knowledge. Even within our own community, we need to work better to educate ourselves on the different parts of the “umbrella” and project that education into the world so that people not included in the GSM community are more aware. A lot of the time we focus on one issue when in reality there are tons of things which we need to change. Instead of going after several things as we should, we focus on one problem and go at that for a long time until we can fix it. It’s kind of like a vicious circle where we get one thing fixed or in the direction of being fixed, but there are other things that pop up because we weren’t paying attention.
Who’s your favorite ally? Why do you think allies are so important?
My favorite ally to the community? That is really difficult. There are just so many people who deserve recognition for standing up and fighting for us that I can’t pick just one. Allies are important because they, generally speaking, have more connections in the world. Heterosexual people aren’t looked down upon as people within the GSM community are. People will give them a chance before they give us a chance.
PRIDE!Kent meets every Thursday at 8 p.m. in Bowman Hall.