LGBT students are center stage at UNM
 Alibi V.19 No.15 • April 15-21, 2010 

Neverending Stories

LGBT Students Center Stage at UNM

Courtesy of the Queer Straight Alliance

He stood under the spotlight in front of 150 audience members at UNM’s Student Union Building. He cleared his throat, tugged at his short, lacy black dress, straightened his tights and grabbed the microphone with painted fingernails. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Ruby Sanchez.”

Ruby entered wearing a red, sparkling dress. She lip synced and danced, accepting $1 bills from men in the audience and tossing condoms she pulled from a glittery fanny pack.

The UNM Queer Straight Alliance’s first-ever variety show on Saturday, April 10, took place about a week after students won back funding for a Queer Resource Center, which could open in the fall semester. It showcased comediennes, singer-songwriters, belly dancers and poets. Also on stage: Lady Gaga impersonators, scantily clad dance crews and assorted entertainers from the LGBT community.

“We’re a lot more provocative,” says QSA chair Adam Quintero. “We’re not afraid of gender lines—that’s a big thing. A lot of the things that we joke around with and mess around with are gender-based. Maybe that’s the little edge.”

The Lady Gaga impersonator performed a 15-minute number backed by about a dozen dancers, complete with whips, thongs and disco balls. During intermission, a trail of silver and red glitter speckled the floor between the performance space and the water fountain.

The show raised $354 for two causes— the Relay for Life (April 16-17) and the National Day of Silence (April 16). The Relay for Life fundraises for the American Cancer Society to conduct research, and the National Day of Silence hopes to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying in American schools.

Near the end of the performance, a UNM student recited a monologue from Thank You for Flushing my Head Down the Toilet, a play by Jonathan Dorf.

The monologue was a somber account of a high school girl whose bullying trauma led her to sadistically suffocate an injured bluebird in her backyard. Kaitlyn Arndt, communications director for the QSA, says the group especially wanted the monologue in the show to remind the audience about the importance of removing bullying from schools. And Quintero says the QSA visited Johnson Middle School to discourage about 300 sixth graders from bullying based on sexual orientation. The group plans to visit high schools and other middle schools in the near future, he adds.

UNM's Queer Straight Alliance frequently sees between 40 and 50 students at its meetings every Wednesday. They come from UNM, around Albuquerque and area high schools. The organization's goal is to provide a safe environment on campus for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Embattled Queer Resource Center

Two undergraduate QSA members—David Griffith and Jeffrey Waldo—almost lost funding for a Queer Resource Center they've been working to establish. The center would provide an on-campus hub for LGBT students and community members [" Campus Queer Space," March 18-24].

The Student Fee Review Board—an undergraduate and graduate panel charged with distributing student fees—unanimously recommended the center get $84,000 in student fees, which works out to about $4 per student. Also, ASUNM and GPSA, the undergraduate and graduate governing bodies, passed resolutions in support of the center.

However, Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, vice president of student affairs, suggested cutting the center—as well as several other nonprofit organizations funded by the SFRB—to help reduce costs to UNM students. Student fees are not covered by the state's Lottery Scholarship, so all increases come directly out of student pockets. This semester, each paid a little more than $450 in fees.

Torres’ recommendation, which came at the end of March, elicited an uproar among the student body. About 50 students staged a protest near the library a week later, and Torres received between 40 and 50 e-mails discouraging the cuts. As a result, Torres and the rest of the administration backed down. However, the UNM Board of Regents has the final say on all tuition and fee increases, so throngs of QSA representatives sat in on the board’s Friday, April 2 meeting.

David Griffith signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. The regents, having already sat through six hours of deliberations, encouraged the undergrad to keep his comments brief.

“The $4 per student that it would cost to open the center—the benefits that would be given to the student body would be much greater than that,” Griffith said. However, Regent Jack Fortner criticized the young man for being insensitive to the LGBT community.

“I don’t like the use of the word 'queer,' ” he said. “I have friends who are gay ... and they find it very offensive, and there’s no way I could support a center with the word queer in it.” Griffith, taken aback, politely interrupted Fortner to disabuse the Farmington attorney of his notion. “I think there’s a bit of a generational gap ... that word used to carry a stigma that college students don’t carry,” he said.

Applause erupted from the contingent of QSA representatives and other undergraduate and graduate students. Griffith let it die down before he spoke again.

“That being said, I do think we’d rather have $84,000 than not change the name.”

After hearing from Griffith and other impassioned students, the regents voted to support the center without a name change. It could open as early as next fall.

UNM Relay for Life: April 16 to 17 at Johnson Gym. Teams camp out and have a representative participating at all times for 24 hours. More details.