“This is our first official event, so you guys are trailblazers, and I appreciate that,” Stephen Facenda, a volunteer leader for Drexel University’s newly formed LGBTQA Alumni Network, told the crowd assembled in the ballroom of the William Way LGBT Community Center this week.
“When I ran for Drexel’s Board of Governors, my platform was quite simple: It was to create space for our LGBTQA alumni,” Facenda continued. “Because there wasn’t any.”
He spoke alongside the two other founders of the group: fellow Drexel grads Joseph Salomone (who boasts seven Drexel degrees) and Antonis Asprakis.
Two-dozen Drexel alumni gathered June 8 at the center for a lively discussion led by sociology professor Jason Orne on his recently published book, “Boystown: Sex and Community in Chicago.”
Salomone opened the meeting addressing the need for the new alumni organization.
“We’re so excited about the future of this group and the possibilities for programs,” he said. “We want to create a student-oriented model so LGBT students and alumni can connect and stay involved.”
“When we had this idea, one thing I remembered about my time at Drexel was how much I treasured inquiry and dialogue and really looking at issues in an academic context,” Asprakis added. “I think Drexel has so many alumni and students with real insight into the community.”
The idea for the group came together organically.
“Our alumni volunteers who were already very involved on campus came to us with ideas and passion,” said Associate Director of Alumni Relations Chrissy Bowdren.
She explained that Facenda was working for more LGBT involvement through his campaign for Board of Governors, while at the same time Salomone and Asprakis, who work together in the school Registrar’s Office, were discussing the importance of LGBT mentorship and community. Bowdren put the three of them in touch, and together they organized the LGBTQA Alumni Network.
“We’re looking forward to marching in the Pride parade this month, and just showing up to be with the community,” Bowdren said. “After that, we’ll begin planning programming for the upcoming semester. We’re very open to ideas and input from the community.”
During a question and answer session, Salomone talked about the importance of mentorship and real-world community for queer youth and adults, especially in light of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that claimed so many LGBT lives in the last few decades.
“For me, one critical point is that a whole generation has died, and it’s sad because they were supposed to be the mentors to the LGBT youth of today,” he said. “There’s so few role models, so few people who can share knowledge and wisdom. When I started coming out, I met these people and they helped me survive and taught me self-respect.”
Bowdren noted that efforts to promote affirmation and visibility of LGBT communities are already underway at Drexel, and the LGBTQA Alumni Network is an extension of that work.
“We held a ceremony at the Trans Day of Remembrance. Being at an institution that acknowledged that day and made it really special was very touching. We really want to build upon that feeling here at Drexel.”
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