Imagine this: you’ve just been kicked out of your home and have been cut off financially from your family. In the blink of an eye, you’re left to battle homelessness and depression. You feel beaten down, both physically and emotionally.
Many students have been lucky enough to not have to suffer this fate, but for the unlucky few who have, it’s simply unbearable. Cameron Koichi Joe, a third-year business economics major, witnessed this very situation happen to a previous boyfriend who came out to his family.
As a result of his boyfriend’s experience, Cameron was encouraged to become an activist in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Ally (LGBTQQIA) community. Cameron’s own identity came out during his junior year of high school, when he revealed his sexuality to his close friends and family. Cameron identifies himself as queer, but dislikes labels for the LGBTQQIA community.
“Queer affords me an identity that is in constant flux in terms of my sexual and gender identity,” he explained. “Since I am a drag performer, some ask if I identify as transgender, which I do sometimes, especially in the mindset of a performance. Some ask if I’m just a man putting on women’s clothing for fun. I would say that all of these and none of these are true Ń sometimes labeling a feeling or trying to categorize all of your actions and expressions is dangerous in that it sticks you in a tight box that you cannot move from.”
This past academic year, Cameron served as the graphics and technology intern at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC) on campus where he was responsible for coordinating and advertising events.
In particular, he organized and performed in the UCI Drag Show, which focused on transgender violence and gender expression, as well as the Queer Culture Festival, which celebrates queer and performance art. Cameron also participated in the Speakers Bureau, a program that shares coming out stories in a more personable environment.
Currently, Cameron works on promoting LGBTQQIA education through individual projects such as a queer magazine that documents queer histories and perspectives as well as a blog that details how queers can go about combating oppression and homophobia.
“My activism for the community comes in the form of education and conversations with people, doing outreach and enlightening people on gender and sexual freedom that need to be embraced in order to eliminate homophobia,” Cameron said.
Through his experiences, Cameron has learned to be more comfortable in his own skin; he has not only changed his outlook on his life, but has also reconsidered future careers.
“As an activist, I was exposed to a bunch of academic circles that expanded my mind, helping me deconstruct the psychology of homophobia and better battle it,” he said. “I’ve learned how to outreach to queer people at risk for violence, depression and abuse.”
His activism has inspired other students as well. Neil Bautista, a second-year English and Spanish double major, was encouraged to take a role in the LGBTQQIA community through his interactions with Cameron.
Bautista, who identifies as gay, attended the UCSA (University of California Student Association) Congress in August, and sat in on a Queer Caucus where members of the LGBTQQIA community discussed how to create a more nascent space for students on UC campuses.
Neil believes that accommodation of the LGBTQQIA community is important because there is still discrimination, marginalization and displacement of such students.
“I think that mobilizing the students on campus is difficult. Many are not interested or simply do not have the time to hear out what activists have to say,” Neil said.
“There is a hustle and bustle about being on Ring Road that effectively does not permit for listening to groups for more than a minute or two.
I also believe that LGBTQ issues are a gray area for many Ń their moral compasses go haywire to the issues. The fundamental aspect for anyone considering participating in LGBTQ activism is this – the fight for equality.”
Both Cameron and Neil encourage students who want to explore their identity to utilize available resources at the LGBTRC. The center is implementing new resources, such as an online chat service, that will anonymously help students who may not be ready to interact in person with queer resources and activists.
Students may also find a supportive community in groups such as T-Time, the first transgender support group at UCI; Transgender Activist Group to Educate and Motivate (TAG TEAM), which focuses on gender justice outreach; and Delta Lambda Pi, UCI’s first openly LGBT fraternity.
“Learning about yourself is the most important thing you can do,” Neil said. “The important thing is to let yourself be open. Pursue what makes you happy, whatever that may be. You are a reflection of all your experiences – there are no right or wrong ones.”