Mesa College Pride Committee
Members of the Mesa College Pride Committee. Photo courtesy of the college

He was riddled with anxiety when he pulled into the San Diego Mesa College parking lot for the first time, years of psychological abuse having shaken his confidence in his abilities. It was only after he began walking to his first class and spotted a rainbow banner with the words “Mesa Pride” that he knew he had found his home.

Indeed, Lance Nelson would thrive at Mesa College, graduate with a GPA of 4.0 and transfer to Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Today, thanks in large part to the supportive atmosphere he found at Mesa College, Nelson, a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, is a research assistant at the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island.

Nelson is just one of thousands of current and former students at San Diego Community College District campuses who are making a difference because of the district’s unwavering support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students and employees.

For far too long, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been treated as outcasts. Hate speech that has become acceptable for far too many has only served to further poison the environment. Even in a state with a reputation for progressive politics, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning individuals find themselves victimized by misunderstanding and prejudice.

But not at San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges, or the seven campuses of San Diego College of Continuing Education. Rainbow banners abound. Campuses are home to LGBTQ+ Safe Zone training programs.

City College has a new Pride Hub for both students and employees, Mesa College’s new Pride Center will celebrate its grand opening on February 22, and both Miramar and Continuing Education colleges are in the process of opening centers of their own to help students feel comfortable about being themselves and forming bonds with others who understand who and where they are in terms of their identity.

The campuses also boast organizations like Club Spectrum, an LGBTQ+ student organization, and the LGBTQ+ Alliance, a student and employee advocacy committee, at Miramar College, and the student-run Gender-Sexuality Alliance at Mesa College, that are dedicated to building community and strengthening a welcoming atmosphere.

At the district level, Research and Planning Analyst Jaime Sykes Seiverd is teaming with Miramar College Professor Laura González, who serves as faculty advisor for Club Spectrum, in leading an initiative to educate faculty, administrators, and classified professionals about LGBTQ+ language, provide tools to increase inclusivity in the classroom and in the workplace, and offer ideas to build a more sensitive environment. Students, faculty, and professional staff also participate in community-wide events such as the San Diego AIDS Walk and annual Pride Parade.

And thanks to Rep. Sara Jacobs, the San Diego Community College District has received a  $1.2 million federal grant to support LGBTQIA+ students by not only creating and expanding Pride Centers at our campuses, but by hiring a regional liaison among the many local agencies that provide services for LGBTQIA+ students.

Make no mistake: serving the LGBTQ+ community is not about serving a special interest group. It’s about serving and protecting our future. Nearly 10% of youth from age 13 to 17 identify as LGBT, and the LGBTQIA+ community is among today’s most vulnerable groups.

This is especially true if a family does not support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or questioning person. Estimates vary, but the National LGBTQ Task Force notes that between 20% and 40% of the 1.6 million homeless American youth are LGBTQ. According to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation, a UCLA-based think tank that advances sexual and gender identity law and public policy through independent research and scholarship, members of the LGBT community are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes.

Our district, whose economic impact totaled $4.3 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year, is the leading provider of workforce training and higher education in the region. And for good reason: we believe in uplifting traditionally underserved populations through education, and we are deeply committed to the success of all our students.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I’m honored to serve as chancellor of a district that proudly fosters an environment of diversity and inclusion, an environment that promotes awareness, support, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning students, faculty, and professional staff.

Dr. Carlos O. Cortez is chancellor of the San Diego Community College District.