Having been a student at UC Irvine and living in Irvine for four years, I’ve definitely had times when I’ve felt like a fish out of water. I’m sure that you have as well, whether it was a difference in class, race, political views or even that the streets in your neighborhood aren’t as clean as the ones in Irvine. It’s hard enough for a college student to live a college life in quiet, clean, conservative Irvine. What is it like for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender UCI student?
Daniel Kang is a first-year graduate student in environmental health, science and policy from New York.
‘I think one of the words that people use is ‘sterile,’ meaning that it’s clean and safe but there’s not much going on. You couldn’t walk anywhere. The first couple months I was here, I didn’t have a car and I was the only person I saw on the sidewalk,’ Kang said. ‘No one’s been mean to me or anything, but sometimes you get looks just being someone walking on the street. Even that’s just kind of weird. It definitely doesn’t make me want to run around with a rainbow flag or anything.’
Difference in classes is the main reason behind the discomfort for Kang.
‘Class is a big deal. I always feel underdressed and not having a car when I first got here, I felt the class thing a lot,’ Kang said. ‘People have very nice cars here. It’s obvious that there’s money here.’
Pat Walsh, the founding director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center at UCI, is a resident of Irvine and has been working at UCI for 20 years. Walsh believes that the problem is more than a class issue.
‘Orange County has traditionally been a wealthy community with tremendous disparities in income, but certainly the wealthy are very wealthy,’ Walsh confirmed. ‘Orange County has always been a Republican county, so Republican power has been in Orange County. Also, since Orange County is as diverse as we are as an ethnic community, religion is very important.’ Walsh went on to explain that because religion is important to various ethnic communities, the conservative view towards homosexuality is even more intense.
Because of these various factors, the result is that Irvine is not LGBT-friendly.
‘There may be people that identify as LGBT, but there is tremendous risk in coming out,’ Walsh said. ‘They might not be closeted but they’re quiet. It’s not that they’re uncomfortable about their sexual orientation or that they don’t relate to other people about their sexual orientation, but they prefer for it not to be visible and as a result, it looks and feels very homophobic.’
Walsh has not seen a change toward acceptance of the LGBT community in Irvine.
‘The City of Irvine had included in one of their policies a positive statement around appreciation of diversity, including sexual orientation, ethnicity and ability,’ Walsh said. ‘There was a debate and they put up a proposition to remove sexual orientation from that list of affirming identities and that happened a long time ago and they haven’t put it back in. They haven’t rectified it and goes back to 1989.’
One can only imagine the fear of coming out in Irvine, especially when it seems as if racial profiling still exists.
‘The other day I saw a cop pull over a beat-up white sedan with three Latino people in it,’ Kang said. ‘The cop was on a motorcycle on my right and we were all waiting at a red light on University and Campus and as soon as the light turned green, the cop pulled them over. It was the most direct case of racial profiling I had ever seen in my life.’
Walsh has also heard her share of stories of racial profiling.
‘I’ve had African-American friends who have been stopped in Irvine and they didn’t know why. I’ve been hearing that for years,’ Walsh said. ‘I want people to know that they can actually go to the Orange County Human Relations Commission and report hate crimes. They have a hate crime network where people can have those kinds of issues addressed.’
While the Irvine community seems to still be stuck in the mentality of the 1950s, one has to wonder if the UCI community is any different.
Walsh explained the reasons behind opening the LGBTRC.
‘The catalyst has been that prior to the Resource Center, the students were doing all the work to provide information about sexual orientation to the campus,’ Walsh said. ‘The students were powerful but the results were burn-out. There was also no safe place on campus where students could go and congregate.’
While the UCI community might not explicitly be against the LGBT community, lack of support can still be felt.
‘Bare tolerance of people who are not heterosexual can play out in many ways on this campus,’ Walsh said. ‘If people are just barely tolerant and not affirming, there is the assumption that they’re not supportive.’
‘For example, the Greek system has very clear gender roles