Junior Martel Okonji, 21, said he came to CSUN without any support group.
“I came here with no support, no friends, anything,” said the sociology major.
He said all that changed when he learned about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) on campus. Okonji said he received a flyer and saw demonstrations on the Day of Silence, the nationally recognized day that brings attention to the anti-LGBT acts of bullying, name calling and harassment.
Okonji later became the intramural chair on the board and is now in his second year as president of the LGBTA, he said.
“I’ve heard it a couple times, it’s nothing new to me,” Okonji said of the name-calling he has heard on campus.
Okonji said the harassment he has seen is mainly verbal but it has never really affected him.
Okonji is not alone.
According to the recent study “The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People” by Campus Pride, a non-profit organization that works towards creating a safer environment for LGBT students, both students and employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer reported feeling discriminated against and were harassed by their peers.
The recent suicide of 18- year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi on Sept. 22 sent the world into shock when he jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a video of him and another male surfaced online.
Clementi’s roommate and another student from Princeton University recorded the video.
The recent deaths of gay students across the nation due to harassment has been in the news and while no such incidents have occurred at CSUN, Dr.
Jacob Hale, director of CSUN’s Center for Sex and Gender Research, said transgender students face discrimination in access to services on campus such as going to the health center and getting trans-specific healthcare.
“There are terrible problems with access to gym facilities, athletic facilities, locker rooms and dormitory arrangements,” said Hale, a philosophy professor.
Hale said transgender students face many problems in administration when students try to change their name on records.
“These challenges lead to situations where the teacher or student’s classmates are unwilling to treat the student the way the student sees himself or herself,” Hale said.
He added that transgender employees in the CSU system face discrimination in choosing healthcare plans.
“University of California system employees can purchase a health insurance policy that is trans-inclusive through Blue Cross Anthem,” Hale said. “CSU employees can purchase a very, very similar policy for the same amount but it specifically excludes transgender procedures. That’s discrimination right in itself.”
Hale said that for the most part the campus is accepting of the lesbian and gay community.
“Accepting doesn’t necessarily mean welcoming,” Hale added.
Hale said there is still prejudice towards some in the bisexual community and these students sometimes feel like they do not belong anywhere on campus.
The main group on campus that is working for these students is the LGBTA which meets on campus every Thursday night.
He said that of the people on campus that are aware of the LGBTA, about 60 percent of them are accepting.
Okonji said students were not able to form a LGBT club on campus.
“From where it is before to where it is now, it’s definitely progressing,” Okonji said.
Junior Karlee Johnson, 19, vice president of the LGBTA said she tends not to see the discrimination because she hangs out with many queer identified people.
“But when I am not around them I definitely hear people say ‘f***,’” said Johnson, a journalism major. “It’s definitely strange to be out of my element that way and realize people still talk that way.”
Johnson added the club is a social group and they strive to give students a base they might not have had at their high school.
“We’re also trying to start a queer center on campus so people can have resources like counseling (so) they can talk to (someone),” Johnson said.
Johnson said the members hope the center will be helpful to transgender students that are having difficulty getting services at the health center on campus.
“Of course, people aren’t going to be changed by one conversation but once you talk to people they have more of an understanding,” Johnson said.