As students, faculty, and guests shared their coming-out stories at the inaugural Rainbow Breakfast on Oct. 13, a common theme emerged: share your story and break the silence.
Despite the hardships they endured when coming out to friends, family, and coworkers — jokes, the silent treatment, orders to leave home, and professional discrimination, among them — the speakers emphasized the importance of sharing their stories to encourage other LGBTQ people to accept who they are and carry on with pride.
CCSU hosted the Rainbow Breakfast on Oct. 13 to honor the contributions of the University’s LGBTQ and Ally community to create a respectful and inclusive community on campus. Organized by the divisions of Student Affairs and Institutional Advancement, the LGBT Center, and the Office of Diversity and Equity, the breakfast featured keynote speaker Richard Spada ’82, a senior global manager for diversity and inclusion at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and the presentation of the 2017 Rainbow Awards, given to CCSU faculty, staff, students, and alumni for their work toward the advancement of LGBTQ inclusion on campus and in the greater community.
Rainbow Award winners for 2017 are History Department Chair Katherine Hermes and student Nichol McCarter for Activism and Advocacy; professor of English Mary Collins for Allyship; True Colors, Inc., winner of the Community Award, and Spada, who received the Alumni Award.
"I have a true passion for the work that I do in diversity and inclusion, and receiving this award from Central, my alma mater, makes it all that much more meaningful,” Spada said.
In welcoming attendees to the breakfast, Connecticut State Colleges & Universities President Mark Ojakian noted how far the LGBTQ movement has come from a time in the not too distant past when members of the LGBTQ community kept their orientation secret. And while society has come a long way in its understanding of the community, Ojakian underscored the importance of continuing the work to raise LGBTQ awareness.
“We can’t forget that even though we live in a state like Connecticut, which is very progressive, there are still people who would seek to roll back the rights we have fought for and the equality that we have achieved,” he said. “At a time when people have been given permission by the leader of the free world to discriminate and to hate very publicly, we need to be the force that counteracts that and show through our community, through our good works and through our efforts what we are all about and what it means to share a common humanity.”
In his keynote address, Spada offered another perspective on why awareness is crucial in sharing the story of his cousin, David, who was the first person Spada came out to as gay. David, an artist and LGBTQ rights advocate, died from complications from AIDS in 1996, just a few months before new developments in AIDS treatment emerged, such as the AIDS drug "cocktail" and the application of ACE inhibitors.
“As a result of that, this has given me a deep sense of empathy and passion that’s driven my work on a global scale, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, to do whatever I can do to foster the creation of open and inclusive work places for people like us and our allies and other people who feel marginalized and who are different,” Spada said.
“I believe that when we all work to create inclusive workplaces, the innovative thinking and creative outcomes that are possible will emerge, but we have to continue to take steps to do that,” he added. “And when we can do that, in the pharmaceutical industry for example, we can brings drugs to market faster, sooner and safer, so that people like David don’t have to die.”
Breakfast organizers also acknowledged the work of Francis Gagliardi, former associate director of the Elihu Burritt Library, in establishing the CCSU GLBTQ Archives. The collection of photos, buttons, T-shirts, videos, postcards, fliers, and more about the GLBTQ community was established in 1993.
As students and staff shared more stories, Dr. Joanne DiPlacido, an associate professor of psychological science and CCSU Pride advisor, reflected on the “seachange of progress toward building inclusion for LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty,” from secret meetings held in classrooms with police stationed nearby to the vibrant support system of programs on campus today.
“The progress made didn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen without the efforts of our campus community, from the university president to students,” she said. “Events like today’s are just another example of what it means to honor the lived experiences of the LGBT community. And, given my 20 years here, I never thought I would see this day; that we would have an event like this.”