Op-ed: An optimal time to celebrate Pride

PHOTO – COLUMN 5-27-28-2021
Photo courtesy of CUNY

Full of optimism awakened by the recent lifting of COVID restrictions, Americans from coast to coast are beginning to take cautious, but hopeful first steps toward the promise of a post-pandemic world. It makes for an ideal time to celebrate Pride Month and acknowledge the rich legacy of the LGBTQ movement, and the many dedicated activists who aroused the conscience of a nation during the AIDS pandemic, ultimately helping create a freer and more accepting society.

The integral role the City University of New York played in this historic movement is a point of great pride. CUNY is the home of the nation’s first university-based research institute dedicated to the history, culture, politics and struggles of the LGBTQ community. CLAGS, now called the Center for LGBTQ Studies and housed at the CUNY Graduate Center, continues to serve as a national resource for the promotion of scholarship that fosters social change. The same can be said for the LGBT Social Science & Public Policy Center, created in 2008 at Hunter College, which supports research that informs public policy decisions on LGBTQ issues.

CLAGS was created by Martin Duberman, a distinguished professor of history and a trailblazing scholar, playwright and activist. Duberman wrote the landmark “Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America,” about the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, the catalyzing event that gave birth to the gay rights movement. 

CUNY scholars continue to contribute to the literature of the movement. Just last month Sarah Schulman, a distinguished professor of the humanities at the College of Staten Island, published “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York 1987-1993,” the definitive story of the direct-action activists of ACT UP who refused to be silent during the AIDS pandemic that gripped our nation and world.

This tradition continues as we offer enriching and innovative programs to benefit our LGBTQ students. Recently, we launched the CUNY LGBTQI+ Advocacy Academy, where some 20 students from around the university are taking a seminar-style course to develop their leadership skills by learning the ins and outs of political advocacy, policy development, community organizing and civic engagement so that they can become the next generation of LGBTQ leaders. I was pleased to virtually attend the first meeting of the class, led by former New York City Councilman Jimmy Vacca, now a distinguished lecturer at Queens College.

Last month we also launched the CUNY LGBTQI+ Summer Internship program with a virtual conference, which I attended along with the presidents of Baruch College, The City College of New York and LaGuardia Community College, as well as leaders interested in providing career engagement opportunities in the private, cultural and nonprofit sectors for our LGBTQI+ students. The recruitment process begins this fall and the program will officially welcome its first cohort next summer. Both programs benefit from the generosity and leadership of Mitch Draizin, the founder and president of the Concordia Philanthropic Fund, whose mission is to support youth leadership initiatives for the LGBTQ community. 

These programs, as well as our ongoing scholarship devoted to LGBTQ history, are a reflection of CUNY’s historic values of inclusivity, diversity and the pursuit of social justice. In that spirit, we recently created a one-stop online tool, the CUNY LGBTQI+ Hub, which collects the resources available to our LGBTQI+ community in one centralized location, so they know that CUNY is the safe environment they need to thrive and flourish.

There is hope and optimism in the air, something that has been in short supply in recent months. As we celebrate this Pride Month in a safe and responsible manner, let’s remember all that we have to be proud of and thankful for.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez took office as chancellor of the City University of New York in 2018. He is the first person of color to lead the nation’s largest public urban university.