In honor of October’s National LGBT History Month, The Harbus asked the Co-Presidents of HBS’s LGBT-SA and Allies student clubs to talk about the goals of their organizations, the significance of LGBT History Month, and how certain historical events have made a huge impact on the country.
The Harbus: How has your organization been helping classmates and professors better understand the issues involved in being a part of or working with the LGBT community?
Patty Smith (MBA ‘16): Allies Club takes an active stand to show support for the LBGT community on campus. We partner with the LGBTSA to host events as well as facilitate speaker series and campus awareness of LGBT issues through a survey called Friend Factor. We are hosting a speaker even on Tuesday October 13 at 6pm on LGBT History 101.
Michael Zaborskiy (MBA ‘16): We partner with the LGBTSA to show active support and create an inclusive environment on campus. For instance, during the National Coming Out Day celebration this Monday, Ally representatives in every section were encouraged to share their experiences with their classmates alongside members of the LGBT community. We are organizing a speaker event on October 13th, and plan to continue education and experience-sharing during the year through small group discussions.
Rosanna Fugate (MBA ‘16): The cornerstone event of the LGBTSA is National Coming Out Day, during which RC students are encouraged to share their personal stories regarding their own coming out or other challenges they have faced as a result of identifying as LGBT. This event is invaluable because it creates empathy within the HBS community and provides a safe space to learn about what it means to be LGBT. Often, this is the first time many of our classmates are exposed to someone who is LGBT and it can be a powerful learning experience. In that way, National Coming Out Day serves to initiate dialogue about the LGBT community at HBS. In addition, the LGBTSA and the Allies club co-sponsor a number of educational and social events throughout the year in order to help facilitate this dialogue beyond National Coming Out Day. The LGBTSA also promotes awareness of the transgender community through the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place on November 20 this year. Finally, the LGBTSA and Allies Club partner together to administer the Friendfactor Challenge, a published survey which measures the level of LGBT inclusion at the top MBA programs across the country.
The Harbus: What does LGBT History Month mean to you?
PS: LGBT History Month is a time where I can focus on expanding my own knowledge of LGBT history and facilitate knowledge-sharing with those around me.
MZ: It means an opportunity to increase the school’s collective knowledge and awareness of one of the fundamental civil rights struggles of our time, and, more importantly, showing the students, faculty and staff what they can do to help.
RF: LGBT History month provides an opportunity to reflect on both the challenges faced by LGBT people throughout history and the progress that has been made in towards achieving equality. In the past couple of years we have seen a great increase in the amount of recognition of the LGBT community through media and TV shows such as Modern Family and Orange is the New Black. We have especially seen a greater amount of visibility of the transgender community through celebrities including Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. Including LGBT people in media and pop culture serves to open the dialogue about what it means to be LGBT and provides a new perspective to those who may not be familiar with the LGBT community. However, this increased visibility also creates an inaccurate perception of total acceptance that does not fully encompass the challenges faced by the LGBT community 30 years ago or even today. There is always value to be gained by reminding ourselves of how far we have progressed in terms of achieving equality within this timeframe and how much further we have to go in the future.
Andrew Martinez (MBA ‘16): As a minority group that has only fairly recently seen meaningful advancements in our acceptance and equality, our history is still not well known among society more broadly. Furthermore, the LGBT community is unique in that we exist everywhere yet without easy ties to those in our community that came before us. Therefore, we all have a lot to learn about the history of LGBT individuals and the movement toward LGBT equality. LGBT History Month is a time when both the LGBT and the broader community can come together to learn about the stories – sometimes heartbreaking, often times inspiring – that have paved to road to where the LGBT community is today.
The Harbus: How can members of the HBS community do their part in supporting their LGBT friends and colleagues, this month and throughout the year?
PS: Members of the HBS community can show support by actively attending, promoting, and hosting LGBT awareness events and being a vocal supporter of LGBT equality.
MZ: The most important thing we can do is create an inclusive and supportive environment – one where everyone is unafraid of being genuine and comfortable in their own skin.
RF: I think that the biggest way the HBS community can show their support is simply by being engaged in learning more about the LGBT community. The LGBT Student Association and Allies Club host a number of educational events throughout the school year with the purpose of engaging the broader HBS community. There are also several excellent documentaries and movies (available on Netflix and Amazon!) which lay out the challenges historically faced by the LGBT community, such as Bridegroom, Paris is Burning and Pariah. In addition to attending these events and seeking educational resources, I think it is also helpful to reach out to LGBT sectionmates and friends to learn more about their personal experience which is often nuanced by the intersectionality of other pieces of their identity such as gender, cultural background, religion, career industry, etc. Finally, I would encourage members of the HBS community to be supportive of students in the small actions that they take every day. There is a number of students each year who choose not to be out on campus. While it is a personal choice whether or not to be out, we as members of the HBS community have a responsibility to ensure an inclusive and welcoming environment on campus so that fear of rejection by the HBS community is never a concern for someone who may be considering coming out at HBS.
AM: Despite the many advancements in LGBT rights, and the generally supportive atmosphere on campus specifically, it takes a lot of courage to be out. As an LGBT person, the fear of rejection always resides somewhere in your head. The members of the HBS community are most supportive when they acknowledge the courage that being out requires and seek to learn more. HBS provides an opportunity to get to know people from all walks of life – take that opportunity to get to know the LGBT people around you, and talk to them about their unique experiences.
The Harbus: What major LGBT historical event do you wish more people understood?
PS: It matters a lot to me that same-sex marriage is now legalized, however I want people to know that despite this major step, there is still tremendous progress still to be made.
MZ: District of Columbia’s enactment of employment protection based on sexual orientation in 1973, and similar actions by other states since then at a very slow rate. I think it demonstrates how hard members of the LGBT community have to fight for some of the basic rights that most of us take for granted.
RF: There are two events that come to mind for me. The first are the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, during which violent demonstrations erupted by LGBT individuals in New York City against police in protest of raids on gay bars. The Stonewall Riots are widely recognized as the birth of the gay rights movement within the U.S. The first Gay Pride Parade was a way to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and gay pride is celebrated in the month of June for this reason. The second event is the recognition of same-sex marriage in the U.S. on June 26, 2015. Many people think that the U.S. Is the most liberal country concerning LGBT rights but this is not the case. Denmark granted same-sexpartnerships in 1989 and Spain has recognized gay marriage for the past ten years. The lack of recognition in the U.S. had many devastating implications relating to taxes, property rights, parental rights and partner recognition at hospitals and funerals. For this reason, recognition of same-sex marriage has always held much more significance for me beyond the ability to obtain a marriage license. I had not anticipated seeing the recognition of same-sex marriage for many years to come and was personally moved by the Supreme Court ruling.
AM: The 2008 passing of Proposition 8 – the amendment to the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage – was a shocking time in recent LGBT history. Through this measure, one of the US states widely considered to be most supportive of LGBT individuals had revoked the right to marry that same-sex couples had been granted only six months earlier. This was an extraordinarily sad time for the LGBT community in California, many of whom felt as though the people they thought supported them had, in fact, betrayed them. Throughout the country, it cast doubt around whether we would see the advancements in LGBT equality at the pace we had been hoping. Nevertheless, it also taught us not to take for granted the progress that had been made, and highlighted the need to continue fighting diligently for our rights.
The Harbus: What do you plan to do to honor October 11th’s National Coming Out Day? What is the significance of this day in the United States?
PS: We had a NCOD event on Monday Oct. 5th with speeches in the RC Sections and t-shirt and rainbow ribbon hand-outs on campus for the entire community. I am also a resident tutor for the undergrads in LGBTQ and will be holding a study break for the 350 students in my house to celebrate on October 11.
MZ: For the celebration that took place on Monday, October 5th we handed out t-shirts, rainbow ribbons & informational flyers to the students, and encouraged them to sign up to be Allies so that we could keep them engaged in educational efforts throughout the year.
AM: Every LGBT individual has a unique journey toward feeling comfortable living openly. National Coming Out Day is both a means of encouragement for LGBT individuals who haven’t yet taken the first step toward being out and an opportunity for the broader community to collectively express their support for their LGBT friends and family. On this day, I will reach out to the people I know who are recently or only partially out to offer my support and help in whatever way possible as they continue their journey toward living openly. The more that we can enable each other to live authentically, the better world we create.
RF: National Coming Out Day began in 1988 and is celebrated on October 11 of each year to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly. The LGBTSA and Allies Club officially celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 5 of this year. On October 11 I plan to spend time with several of my friends in Chicago and initiate a dialogue around our experience of being out as women in the lesbian/bisexual communities. Although coming out is a life-altering event, we do not often take the opportunity to reflect on our own experience or to learn from one anothers’ experiences.