Two men were honored at the Wong-Sayaman Equality Award for 2010 for their work with the LGBTQ community.
The award was announced at the Queer Studies Spring Lecture Series on March 30. Kevin Zemlicka was recognized for his work on the “Positive Space-Ally Project” (a program which facilitates understanding of common LGBTQ terms, questions and ally experiences) and Erik Mata for his contribution on AIDS Awareness Day and LGBTQ activism in the Chicano/a community.
Zemlicka said he always considered himself a progressive thinker.
“I remember one night my 12-year-old son, who is big on the outside and small on the insides, went to kiss me good night and I flinched and pulled away,” Zemlicka said. “I remember thinking I would never want anyone to think he or I was queer.”
Mata said HIV and AIDS greatly affect the community.
“I wanted to organize an event around an issue that greatly affects the Latino community in addition to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Unfortunately, HIV and AIDS is an issue that greatly affects the Latino community and the LGBTQ community,” Mata said.
Both men received their awards from Ronora Sayaman (the donor of the award and alumnus of CSUN) for their contribution to the LGBTQ community.
Dr. Sheena Malhotra, queer studies program coordinator and advisor and associate professor of gender and women’s studies, said this is the first time and first year they have given out this award.
“The award is honoring students that work towards equality in the LGBT community,” Malhotra said.
Malhotra said Zemlicka is a student who got inspired about what he was learning in the class and wanted to get rid of discrimination against the community and started doing ALLY training.
“He took QS 301 with Dr. Gina Masequesmay and was going to school full-time, had a full-time job, and a family. He was passionate about making the campus better. Not many straight men see things that might be wrong in the LGBT community, and take the time to make a positive change,” Malhotra said. “He was focused here on CSUN’s campus and focused to identify with the straight male population. His work exemplifies that this work is not about how you identify sexually.”
Malhotra said Mata is someone with initiative.
“He saw a need about raising awareness about HIV and he went and organized on his own, with help from students on HIV day, organized an all day conference on campus. He’s a student who took a look around the environment and took initiative and made it happen,” Malhotra said.
Malhotra said the Wong Sayaman award aims to do two things.
“First, it aims to raise awareness within the LGBT issues and the people working to make changes and second to award and encourage people who are aiming to make changes,” Malhotra said. “In order for a student to be recognized for their efforts they must apply with queer studies, but it’s not limited to queer studies students.”
Zemlicka said he has stayed involved this semester despite the difficulty they’ve had getting access to classrooms due to furloughs.
“I have been working closely all semester with Dr. Masequesmay and her students to assess Asian Pacific Islander Americans attitudes to queer issues, including but not limited to same-sex marriage,” Zemlicka said. “We have been working hard to construct a survey and on May 1 Dr. Masequesmay and I will be presenting the preliminary data at a conference at UC Berkeley.”
Erik Mata, who is not a queer studies student, said he was awarded for proposing and executing M.E.Ch.A. de CSUN’s first “Community HIV and AIDS Awareness Event.”
“CSUN students, faculty and parents came to the event to the learn about HIV prevention as well as to learn about the stigmas that positive individuals face. In addition to organizing the event, I volunteer at Bienestar, is an organization that exists to partly provide support for the LGBTQ community, specifically Latino gay men,” Mata said.
“Homeless queer youth are also more prone to acquire HIV because their immediate survival often depends on offering their body to a stranger in order to acquire money for their next meal. Their clients often refuse to pay unless the sexual acts are unprotected,” Mata said. “They become homeless after coming out to non supportive parents who disown them. I cannot ignore the issues that are negatively impacting my community, and that is why I am an activist: to help get rid of the issues that are hurting my community.”
“What is important for the campus to know is that the award (is) not just an award acknowledging your work thus far, but rather the award is just a stepping stone in your life as an activist,” Mata said.