Cassidy Barrington calls the Inland Empire the “bible belt” of California. Growing up there she first started to explore her sexuality and her queer identity by joining her high school’s Gay Straight Alliance — brave in an area that was also home to the violent “white Aryan resistance.”
“It was a constant fight for queer visibility, and for tolerance,” Barrington said. At the end of high school, she came out of the closet to her father, who didn’t talk to her for a month afterward.
The 23-year-old graduate student in sexuality studies said her experiences inspired her to become the director of a safe place for LGBTQ students at SF State.
The University’s first Queer Resource Center will open its doors Feb. 6. It will host a grand opening party the next day on Malcom X Plaza at noon. Barrington will be at the helm as its first director.
Housed on the second floor of the Cesar Chavez Student Center in room M-109, the resource center is funded by the Associated Students, Inc. The center will offer a lending library, a referral database for on and off-campus resources for LGBTQ students, a map of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and will hold forums and conferences on topics like queer identity.
But more importantly, Barrington wants the Queer Resource Center to offer a sense of community.
“I definitely felt safe (at SF State),” she said. “But just because you don’t feel unsafe, doesn’t mean you feel connected.”
Hiring process catches criticism
The planning process for the resource center started in the Winter of 2011. Abel Gomez, an ASI representative, and others from the school’s queer community led the charge for its creation. The planning was anything but easy. The center’s hiring process drew criticism from the queer community, notably from Katie Tims, who was secretary of the school’s Queer Alliance at the time.
“Many present at the (unveiling) felt (the hiring process) was very homogenous, homonormative if you will,” Tims told Xpress last September, after representatives of the queer student community met with two ASI representatives to air their grievances.
Homonormativity refers to the feelings of some in the gay community that in order to assimilate with straight culture, gay culture was slowly becoming more “straight,” or “normative,” as opposed to having distinct gender identities.
Barrington made addressing homonormativity one of her first priorities.
“I feel some of the concerns were valid,” she said. In response, she’s planning a series of forums on homonormativity for the inaugural semester of the resource center. Tims was surprised to hear of the workshops.
“I was not aware of the fact that they will be addressing this issue and I am very pleased to hear it,” she said. In fact, despite the initial tensions over the hiring process, Tims said she was pleased on the final choice.
“Having worked with Cassidy on a few events, I will say that she has been wonderful and very active and hard-working and a valuable member of the community on campus,” Tims said.
Ultimately though, the biggest problem the new resource center faces may have nothing to do with gender politics. The new resource center has a severe lack of space.
Room to breathe
With the Queer Resource Center limited to a single room, an advisor to City College of San Francisco’s Queer resource center and CCSF English professor, Jennifer Worley, says this may limit what they can accomplish.
“We (also) started in a tiny room in our student union,” Worley said. “First of all, it would feel really crowded with even ten people in the space.”
Originating in the 1990s, City College’s Queer Resource Center was eventually upgraded to a larger, multi-room office space with computers, printers, a kitchenette and many student workers.
Once they had a larger space, the resource center at City College saw its attendance jump from 10 students per day to nearly 70.
Worley said the lack of space may even send a negative message to the campus’ queer community.
“I think for SF State to not have their own space (for a resource center), makes it important for them to think about what they’re saying,” Worley said.
But no matter the size, Worley plans on recommending SF State’s new Queer Resource Center to all of her students that transfer from City College. She was impressed at the tenacity it took for Gomez, Barrington and the community at SF State to create their own safe space for queer students of all stripes.
Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell wasn’t able to say definitively if the resource center could get more space in the future.
“I believe that ASI will work with and review the program’s needs as it does with all of their programs and resources,” Greenwell said. “I have also reached out to the new director to offer support as a new center on campus. I look forward to future collaborations as we continue to enhance the student experience at SF State.”
Gomez acknowledged that they won’t be able to do everything they want in a single semester.
“We are very, very far behind other universities,” he said.
Notably, University of San Francisco, City College of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and San Jose State University all have long-established LGBTQ resource centers.
Looking to the future, Gomez said he would like SF State’s resource center to offer scholarships or a workspace for people to just hang out. Gomez and Barrington both have many dreams for the resource center’s future.
For now, SF State’s first Queer Resource Center will focus on workshops, connecting queer services on campus and holding more queer events like Queer Yo Mind, which fits their goals of educating the community.
Barrington said education is important because even within the queer community itself, many prejudices still remain.
“I was confronted on my bi-phobia,” Barrington said about her time as an undergraduate. “I made a comment about how bi-sexuals were in a transition (to coming out as gay), and were immature,” she said.
Ultimately, those in the Queer Resource Center at UC Santa Barbara, where she studied Sociology, taught her to respect the bisexual community, opening her eyes to her own assumptions and stereotypes.
“It was a transformative moment for me,” Barrington said. And that’s why she wants to give that opportunity to the students of SF State.
“There was this magical, tight knit community,” she said. “I want to create that experience here.”
Editors note: This article has been updated to include additional information.