On the Record with GU Pride co-Presidents Joseph Graumann (SFS ’11) and Carlos Leon (COL ’10)
In this week’s issue, the Voice spoke with co-Presidents of GU Pride Joseph Graumann (SFS ’11) and Carlos Leon (COL ’10) about their organization, the recent hate crimes on campus and the challenges facing the LGBTQ community. This is the extended transcript of our interview with them.
The Voice: How did you get involved in GU Pride?
Joseph: Well, I came out on campus during the Out for Change campaign. It was a lot of the issues at the time and the struggle that went on for recognition of the LGBTQ community really made me look inside myself, and, I mean as corny as it sounds, my so-called “brothers and sisters” are off fighting the good fight and I am not even secure enough to tell my friends.
Ever since then, I realized that there is work to be done. And my good friend Ellen, who was already involved with the Out for Change campaign, Ellen Greer, she really encouraged me to be involved in the community and I started out as historian, when there was an opening in the beginning of my sophomore year  and then sophomore year, December, they had elections for co-chair and I ran and got elected.
The Voice: What is one thing you wish to change about GU Pride?
Joseph: I would like to see GU Pride become a more welcoming and open place for people who are in the process of coming out or who feel like they are unable to find a safe place with other aspects of the community that administers to LGBTQ people.
The Voice: The best thing about GU Pride?
Joseph: What I like about GU Pride is that although not everybody who is affiliated with the organization shows up to everything, we have a pretty good sense of comradery and we’ve developed a very good sense of community on campus, which is really important, given the nature of our identities, it’s really hard to do that, it’s hard to forge a cohesive and diverse, both racially [and] socio-economically, group on campus.
The Voice: What is the relationship of GU Pride with the University administration? Do you have a good working relationship?
Joseph: Honestly, I would have to say yes. The University has been more than willing to talk to us, we have never been told we can’t do something – perhaps we are not trying hard enough. Certainly, the LGBTQ Center, an arm of the administration, has been nothing but supportive. We have an excellent working relationship with them.
There is CSP, which is the other office that we deal with on a daily basis. We’ve also worked with Campus Ministry, DPS – there’s a, I think, LGBTQ liaison, I forget her name. The University has been very positive.
The Voice: What is GU Pride’s relationship with the new LGBTQ liaison from DPS going to be like?
Carlos: I mean, the position was just created last week, or in the last two weeks, so it’s still fairly new and the relationship is still being determined.
Joseph: It’s good to have her.
Carlos: It is important to have visibility, even within the Department of Public Safety. Metro has an LGBTQ liaison and campuses around the country have a LGBTQ liaison. So, it’s important for us to know that the campus is being aware of the existence of bias-related incidents. So, that’s always an important step for public safety.
The Voice: What are your future plans for GU Pride?
Joseph: Constitution. We are currently working on our constitution, in a way that we hope will better serve the community and allow us to reach out to our general members in a better way. It will also define how to work with the LGBTQ Resource Center, which is something that needs to be codified. [We will] also generally update and give [ourselves] a more streamlined board structure that will enable us to do other things.
Carlos: We have been working on it actively for the past two weeks. It will be, hopefully, voted for by the membership and approved in December, so then after December—essentially once finals end, then the constitution will take affect.
Joseph: [Also,] we need to start fundraising. It’s an important thing for the organization, to make sure that we have the means by which we can advocate for our population.
The Voice: What do you think of the atmosphere at Georgetown University in regards to the LGBTQ community?
Joseph: It is usually an accepting place. It’s unfortunate that there is still bias but it does so on a very small scale and I think though, despite support from the religious communities on campus, that much of the bias comes from a kind of grounding in religion. That is really unfortunate.
Carlos: I think there are two major issues when it comes to the way the LGBTQ community exists on campus, one part I feel it is a very positive response we get from straight allies and just generally the Georgetown community that might not be involved in GU Pride. It’s always very supportive.
Then, there’s the other issue, just within the LGBTQ community itself–there is still a very strong perception that the gay, lesbian, bi community on campus is very white. So that has a lot to do with issues of visibility and I think that it is an important issue the organization–all organizations, not just GU Pride—should address, GU Pride concerning more looking at programming to get more students of color involved. The board [of GU Pride] varies, but currently, just the way the board ended up coming to be, it is overly and predominately white.
The Voice: What has the student reaction been like, in regards to the recent hate crimes?
Joseph: Overall, being here fall of 2007, when a lot of the initial push for the creation of the LGBTQ center and just greater LGBTQ awareness on campus started, I have seen the active participation of students outside of the LGBTQ community just expand tremendously, just greater support. Even a lot of the immediate action that was taken, it was outside the LGTBQ community.
A lot of the rallies and a lot of this movement has been pushed by people that I don’t necessarily know, and that has always been surprising, just the active participation of people that are outside the circle has been very comforting. Within two years, I have seen Georgetown campus and student body drastically change their opinions, in the sense of being proactive and making proactive decisions, which has been bery comforting.
Jospeh: With this new movement we have, we are working really closely with GSC and their push for better pay for DPS officers and for more DPS officers, which is definitely [important for] Pride and this new Students for Campus Safety. It’s something we recognize is really fundamental to improving the situation on campus for everybody. So, yeah–[there has been a] really great response from lots of organizations.
The Voice: How is the bias reporting system working out?
Joseph: Well, the bias reporting system was something that came out of the Out for Change campaign in the Fall of 2007. We as GU Pride have been trying to promote it, have been promoting it successfully, especially in junction with the resource center. Sivagami [Subbaraman] sits on the committee that sees these incident reports and it’s pretty much a fact that the more these incidents get reported, the more information the university has and the more willing the university is to recognize the problem with bias on campus.
What Pride has been doing is handing out key chains, we have been constantly plugging the bias reporting system to media in our events, in our daily interactions with people. If someone comes to me personally, either as a friend or if they know we’re involved in Pride or something, and they have news of an incident, the first thing I ask them is “are you safe” “did you report it”? It’s really important we give that information.
The Voice: What is Pride’s relationship with the LGBTQ Resource Center like?
Carlos: In terms of how they deal with DPS and administrative details, I am just not aware, but overall when it comes to the resources they offer students, they have been going beyond that administrative role and have been very supportive and on a personal level with students on campus. Matt [LeBlanc] and Sivagami have been very visible and present at student rallies, and that is in a sense personal and emotional, and they have been there.
Joseph: knowing them personally, we know that they have our backs, and that they are working with our best interests in mind, but beyond that we don’t really have the information [of administrative details].
Photo by Jackson Perry.