It wasn’t uncommon in the early 70s for Steven Burke, ’75, to hear banging on his dorm room door followed by homophobic slurs being shouted from the other side.
Four decades ago, students like Burke, who openly admitted to being part of the LGBTQ+ community, were often stigmatized by society.
“I went through four roommates,” he recalled: No one wanted to share a room with him due to homophobia.
A lot has changed in 40 years.
“Over the past few decades Bridgewater State has made extraordinary progress in creating a campus that values everyone,” said Dr. Sabrina Gentlewarrior, vice president of student success and diversity. “It is in individual stories like Mr. Burke’s that we can fully appreciate the importance of the work we are doing at BSU to ensure every member of our campus and alumni community feels safe, supported and welcome.”
Bridgewater State will soon add another layer of support, the school’s first LGBTQ+ and ally alumni group.
Former BSU Alumni Association President, Jason Stocker, ’04, is one of the organizers spearheading the new alumni group.
While at BSU, being “out” as a member of the LGBTQ+ community never interfered with Stocker’s ability to achieve his goals. He does however recognize that older alumni like Burke, may have been subjected to discrimination, negativity and bias.
“They might remember their time at the university as a LGBT person in a different way. Society, as a whole, was different then,” he said. “We want them to come back and share their knowledge with current students and see what we can do together for the university.”
During Homecoming this year, Bridgewater alumni who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and their allies, are invited to attend the launching of the newly formed group.
The LGBTQ+ alumni group will be introduced at the “You Have a Home at BSU” reception on Friday, Oct. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will take place on the second floor of Boyden Hall.
Cocktails, appetizers and desserts will be served with music and activities planned affirming the LGBTQ+ and ally communities. There will also be guest speakers on hand, including BSU President Frederick W. Clark Jr.
In speaking about BSU’s ranking as a national leader in LGBTQ+ student success, Stocker said, “I think it’s valuable the university has put themselves on the map in terms of LBGTQ+ support. Many strides have been made in supporting the LGBTQ+ student body. It’s now time that some of our alumni can benefit from that support. We hope this this will encourage alumni to come back and be more engaged.”
Burke, who lives in Palm Springs, California, is unable to attend the event but will be there in spirit.
He was able to return to campus last spring as an invited guest at the annual Lavender Graduation, a ceremony that honors the lives and achievements of BSU’s GLBTA students graduating with either an undergraduate or a graduate degree.
“It was rather cathartic,” Burke said of his visit. “It was good to see that things have changed over the years. I’m so pleased that LGBTQ students coming to Bridgewater now know that they are accepted.”
Those interested in attending the Oct. 12 event can register online here. (Story by Heather Harris, University News)