National LGBT student organization Campus Pride last month named the two winners of its annual Voice & Action Award — which recognizes exemplary LGBT student leaders — and one is making a difference here in the Keystone State.
Stephen Lucas, a senior at Pennsylvania State University, was selected along with George Aumoithe Jr., a junior at Bowdoin College, for the honor, among the pool of more than 30 applicants nationwide.
Lucas, 22, hails from Leechburg, just outside of Pittsburgh, and is majoring in English and writing. In addition to his studies, Lucas is an active member of the LGBT community at the University Park campus.
Lucas is the only undergraduate member of the executive board of the Penn State Commission on LGBT Equity, an entity that reports directly to the president of the school, and also serves as the president of Rainbow Roundtable, the umbrella agency that oversees the university’s nine LGBT student agencies.
“I basically look at the community at large and see what needs are being met by our organizations themselves and work on programming to ensure that we address whatever needs are not being met,” Lucas, who served as Rainbow Rountdable’s vice president last year, explained of his duties as president. “We also try to look at leadership within the organizations and see what kind of support they could use from us and other leaders on campus and try to facilitate that.”
Lucas first got involved in the LGBT campus community in his sophomore year as a member of the College Democrats.
“I went to the LGBT[A] Student Resource Center and got connected with them and told them I had this idea of the College Democrats working with them on some kind of event with LGBT rights because National Coming Out Week was coming up,” Lucas said. “So I told them my ideas and they asked me to get involved in planning it, and I ended up speaking at the rally we had. It was pretty awesome.”
Lucas, who interned at the LGBTA Student Resource Center this year and last, has also been involved in the executive board of the school’s Student Government Association, but said he had to cut down on his work for that organization in order to step up as president of Rainbow Roundtable.
With his litany of LGBT work on campus, Lucas has been able to gain insight into the atmosphere LGBT students face, which he said is most positive when the students are truthful about their sexuality.
“It’s somewhere you can pretty much be whoever you want, especially if you’re willing to put yourself out there. It’s not the most liberal environment, but it’s also not the most conservative environment. A lot of people have the mindset of live and let live, but I’ve seen that if you’re open and honest about it and not apologetic, that’s when people are most cool about it.”
Lucas, who’s planning to go to graduate school for public health and hopes to use his education to work with socially and economically marginalized communities, said he believes LGBT students like himself should continue to take on leadership roles and be open about their sexuality in order to help their peers shed any misconceptions they may have of the community.
“I think we need to be out and open and visible not just to make gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual people part of people’s lives, but to show people that we’re actually leaders; otherwise, I don’t think people will understand how many of us are out there. For my generation of LGBT folks, we need to do this in order to keep moving forward in the movement,” he said. “We’re still not 100-percent accepted in the public, especially in different geographic locations, but we have so much more social support than the generation before us.”