On Being the Rainbow Floor RA

KevinKevin Steen is currently a senior who will be graduating with a degree in Linguistics and Middle East Studies. This year, Kevin had been the resident advisor for the Rainbow Floor (LGBT special interest residential community) at Century Apartments. As RA, he had also put on LGBT programming for his residents and the rest of the USC community. Read about his experience as the RA of the Rainbow Floor.

What was the most rewarding about being the Rainbow Floor RA?
There’s something really special about being the RA to the Rainbow Floor. People don’t end up here randomly. They’re here because they want to plug into a community of LGBT and Ally leaders on campus. So in a way, there’s already a community formed when we arrive. But I have to admit, I was a little afraid of messing it up! I felt a lot of pressure to help everyone get to know each other and make sure everyone felt equally supported by our community. As much as the Rainbow Floor is known for it’s LGBT-related programming, it’s really much more about the one-on-one interactions that take place between residents here one the floor.

So I would say that the most rewarding moments as the Rainbow Floor RA are when I’m walking down the hall and see everyone’s doors open, hear people playing video games, making music, cooking a meal, or just sitting around talking and laughing together. I’m sure it sounds corny, but I just love it when everyone gets along! It shows that my residents can trust each other and have a community to support them and help them grow. Big events are fun, but nothing beats the fun that the Rainbow Floor has at home.

What was the biggest accomplishment of the year as an RA?
There are a few events that I’m particularly proud of. We had a Queer LA Speakers Series last fall the culminated in a walking tour of queer history of Los Angeles. Very interesting, informative, and hands-on! My favorite type of program. I also really enjoyed talking about the power of slurring words with our faculty panel at the Sticks and Stones event. I loved that one of the professors stayed for over an hour after the event just to chat with students and hear more about their thoughts and questions. We also had a very meaningful Trans* Ally Training at the beginning of the spring semester that I think really opened a lot of people’s minds to the challenges that Trans* individuals face on our campus and beyond. I hope that, at least in some smal way, this training helped set the tone for a semester of exciting victories for our Trans* sisters and brothers.

How did the experience of being an RA and its challenges help you grow as a person?
Every time that I begin to think that I’m becoming an expert on issues of diversity, I am challenged to broaden my perspective. This has been a major theme of being the Rainbow Floor RA. More than anything, it has shown me how vastly diverse our backgrounds are and how crucial it is to withhold judgment until you’ve really heard someone out and done your best to not only walk a mile in their shoes, but to look back over all the miles they’ve already covered in those shoes! I am consistently BLOWN AWAY by the strength and the drive of my residents. They inspire me to be my best self. (It must sound so corny but it’s all SO TRUE!)

What advice would you give for the incoming RA of the Rainbow Floor?
The Rainbow Floor RA position is a pretty time-intensive gig. I highly recommend scheduling some time in your day or your week where it’s OK simply to hang out by yourself. Whether you’re a jogger or a gardener or need time to cultivate your Beanie Babies collection, this time of reflection is so necessary! It will relax you as well as allow you to reflect on the week’s activities and how you can learn from them. Being “on-call” 24/7 is about the most efficient way to go totally crazy. Be there for your residents, but don’t forget to take care of yourself or you won’t be able to do the full job. I think this really goes for any leadership position on campus, big or small.

Also: iCal is your friend, listen more than you speak, and only put a few condoms out at a time or those things will be gone overnight.

Some Rainbow Floor events this past year:

  • Rainbow Floor Screening of “Leave It on the Floor” Film on LA Drag Culture.
  • Queer LA Speaker Series (With Chris Freeman and Tom De Simone)
  • Saturday Sports Day
  • Sticks & Stones: The Power of Dehumanizing Slurs

Besides being an RA for the Rainbow Floor, Kevin is actively involved with the Queer and Ally Student Assembly as well as Trojan Knights and USC Men CARE. In the Spring of 2012, he spent a semester abroad in Jordan and was able to study in the University of Jordan. 

Drop In & Chat Program with Ekta!

Meet Ekta Kumar! Ekta currently is a Psychology Intern at the new USC Engemann Student Counseling Center. She is from the University of Indianapolis and is now in her last year of doctoral training (PsyD). Starting today, Ekta will be serving as a professional counselor in the LGBT Resource Center’s new signature program: Drop In & Chat.  Learn more about what Ekta and the program has to offer for students at USC.

Describe the Drop In & Chat program.
This is a program designed to better serve the LGBTQA community at USC.  These consultation hours provide students with immediate access to speak with a professional counselor about any difficulties they are experiencing.  Consultation hours provide confidential support, and in certain cases, recommendations for the next step (e.g., an appointment at Student Counseling Center).  These services are 30-minute consultations versus a 50-minute therapy session.

How long have you been working with the LGBTQ & Ally community?
Although I have been trained as a generalist, I have been forming a specialization in providing LGBTQ-affirmative services for the past 4.5 years.  My experiences include specific clinical work with LGBTQ individuals, organizing program-wide LGBTQ trainings, running LGBTQ therapy groups, my doctoral thesis on South Asian gay men, and political activism for equal civil rights.

What inspired your interest in the Drop In & Chat program?
I am currently the SCS Liaison to the LGBT Resource Center.  I sought this liaison relationship due to my passion for LGBTQ issues and worked with Vincent to better serve USC student needs.

What do you hope students will get out of this program?
I hope students will be able to use these hours as a resource and another way to receive support in their lives.  In certain cases, I hope these hours will serve as a stepping stone to seek psychological services at the Engemann Student Counseling Center.

Schedule: For the Spring of 2013, Ekta will be available to talk to students about anything and offer confidential support on Fridays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the LGBT Resource Center (STU 202B). Students are not required to make an appointment but rather, they can drop in for a brief meeting.

Presidential Inauguration 2013 makes LGBT history

This past Monday, history was made as President Obama gave his inaugural address for his second presidential term, which was the first to ever highlight the struggle for LGBT equality and the lives of those who are LGBT-identified and their families.

In his speech he stated:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the start that guide us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King Proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for it we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

In addition to having the President give a shout out to the LGBT community in his speech, there were other LGBT highlights about the inauguration day itself:

  • The Presidential Inaugural Committee had appointed Reverend Nancy Wilson of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) , an openly gay pastor, to speak in the interfaith prayer service.
  • Episcopal priest Rev. Luis Leon, an LGBT ally, was chosen to deliver the benediction at the President Obama’s second inauguration. He had replaced Rev. Louie Giglio, an anti-gay pastor, who was criticized for his sermons against the LGBT community in the 1990s.
  • The inauguration ceremony and parade both included the country’s first openly gay marching band, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, which was first formed in 1982. They were the first LGBT group of any kind allowed to participate in the inaugural parade back in 2009.
  • Richard Blanco, an openly gay Latino, was the first LGBT poet to write and deliver the inaugural poem.
  • Openly gay and lesbian service members were allowed to attend the Inaugural Ball with their same-sex partners for the first time in American history.

Honey Mahogany: USC Alum on RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Honey Mahogany (Credit: Mathu Andersen)

Don’t miss the 5th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a USC Trojan will be taking on the competition!

Meet Honey Mahogany! Honey graduated from USC in 2006 as a Psychology major and Musical Theatre minor. He was an office assistant for the LGBT Resource Center during their time at USC as well as an RA for the Rainbow Floor and an executive board member of GLBTA (now currently known as QuASA). Read more about Honey’s experience at USC and in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

1. You have been doing drag for some time now, what ultimately motivated you to audition for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I have always wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and music. This is something that I have been working towards in some way all my life. Over the past few years especially, I have been working on writing and recording my own music, and growing as a performer in San Francisco, while balancing that with the work that I do as a social worker. (One value that I took on during my time at USC was the concept of “breadth & depth”… do they still use that phrase?) I think that over this last year, I finally felt like it was time for me to really put myself out there… I don’t know if it was the pressure of my Saturn’s Return pushing me into high gear, or if I just felt like I had reached my peak in the local drag scene, but I just felt it was time to try for something big.

2. What was the audition process like for RuPaul’s Drag Race? How did you find out you were a finalist?
Well, everyone has to submit a video. I think they usually post the instructions for the audition tape online at the end of the previous season. I’m not sure if the instructions are always the same or if they change year to year (this was my first time auditioning), but when I auditioned, they asked me to basically answer a few questions, talk about myself and my drag, submit a few performance videos, and show them a variety of looks…. Oh, and they wanted me to lip-synch a RuPaul song… All that in just 12 min!

After I submitted my tape, I got an email that I had made it into the top 20. I then had a phone interview and had to go through a psych evaluation. I finally found out I made it on the show about 2 weeks before the start of filming…. Actually, I think it was more like 10 days!

3. You have an amazing voice, did you take vocal training to prepare for the upcoming season?
Thanks! To answer your question: no, I didn’t take any vocal lessons as part of my Drag Race preparation. RuPaul’s Drag Race has never really been about singing, so I didn’t focus on my singing ability when planning for the show. I was more concerned about my sewing skills! That being said, I did take some vocal lessons while at USC as part of my Musical Theater minor.

4. What is a typical (if there is such a thing) Honey Mahogany day?
I don’t think there is a ‘typical’ Honey Mahogany day yet… but here is a typical weekend:

Wake up at the crack of dawn (10am) and head to the office for work. In case-management meetings until 3pm, and then I have youth group and follow-ups until 7pm. At that point I drive home to start getting ready for that night’s show. If it’s an easy night, I will just have 1 show where I am booked. But sometimes I’m booked for 2. I then usually get home around 3:30am. When I wake up the next day, I often times have to get up and almost immediately start getting in make-up. I try and do photoshoots/videoshoots on Saturdays, and then I stay in drag if I have a booking later that night. Sundays are usually a day where I have time to workout in the morning or maybe go to brunch, but it’s also a big drag night, so I often have to get in make-up again that evening. And then Monday nights I host my own show “Mahogany Mondays” at the Midnight Sun in San Francisco and my week starts again.

4. How do you choose the songs for your act?
That is a really good question! It definitely depends on what I’m doing: where I’m performing, the theme of the party/show, the venue, whether I’ll be singing live or lip-synching… While I try to be diverse in the material I perform, if I’m lip-synching, my go-to diva is definitely Beyonce. For some reason, it is really easy for me to get into my Beyonce character and tell a story. But I also love lip-synching to people like Sia and MIA. I also really, really enjoy lip-synching dialogue from films… I find it to be a bit more challenging than lip-synching songs, which have rhythm and music to help guide you. When I sing live, I tend to be a little more old school in my song selection. I’ll sing Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Etta James, jazzed up Sondheim and Gershwin tunes… I’ll mix it up with some Adele and Amy Winehouse too. I do love me some blue-eyed soul.

RuPaul5. You lived on campus while at USC.  What was your fondest USC experience?
I don’t know that I can point to one single experience as being my fondest memory of USC. My time there was just so magical. I loved how I got to do so many things… I was in the USC Repertory Dance Company, I was an RA, I worked at the LGBT Center, I worked for an HIV-Prevention research study, a Psych research study, tutored elementary school children, got to be involved in student films, and so much more… I got to do so much, and meet so many amazing people, some of whom I still keep in touch with to this very day and still love as much today as I did back then.

6. What does it mean to you to be a part of the Trojan family?
Personally, I feel very proud to be a Trojan, and to this day, I still feel a sense of belonging and community. I also think that I hold on to cultural mores from my USC days such as striving for excellence, being well-rounded, and valuing diversity. Lastly, I do try and give back to the school whenever I can. I can’t afford to every year, but I do what I can.

7. What motivated you to start doing drag?
Well I started doing drag at USC! I had never thought about doing it before a friend of mine at the film school asked me to play the role of a man who dressed as a woman in his first film our sophomore year.

8. How did you first get involved with the LGBT Community at USC? What were some organizations were you involved with while you attended USC?
I believe I first got involved because I picked up a flier my Freshman year when the LGBT Center was tabling. But I don’t think I got deeply involved until I became an RA my Junior year. I was an RA at Webb Tower, which is where the Rainbow Floor (LGBT special interest community housing) was located. I started off serving as a helper to the Rainbow Floor RA and then transitioned to being a liaison between the Rainbow Floor and the LGBT Center and GLBTA. I then became the Rainbow Floor RA the following semester, and stayed on as the Rainbow Floor RA until I graduated the following year. I also stayed involved with the LGBT Center and the GLBTA. While I was at USC I also got to work on a research study called the Virtual Sex Project, which was testing HIV prevention interventions in gay and bisexual men. I mentioned some of this before, but I was also a part of the USC Repertory Dance Company for 7 semesters, I participated in AAAS, worked as USC Readers Plus, got involved in on campus (and off campus) theater productions and film productions, was involved at the Caruso Center (Catholic Center)… Looking back on it, I don’t think I ever had a full night’s sleep while at USC.

9. What did you study during your time here at USC?
When I was in school I was a Psychology major and had a minor in Musical Theater. I also did an unofficial advertising/marketing minor.

RuPaul's Drag Race10. Any words of advice for current students (that happen to do drag) about doing drag after college?
Do everything you can. Take risks, make mistakes, and have as much fun as you possibly can.

Catch the premiere screening of Honey Mahogany on RuPaul’s Drag Race  at Tommy’s Place on January 28th at 8:30PM!

Oscar in the Obama Campaign

OscarOscar is currently a sophomore majoring in Political Science and minoring in Statistics. This past semester, Oscar took time off from USC to work on the Obama campaign in Florida. Read about his experience being part of the campaign.

What sparked your interest to take time off of school to work for the Obama campaign?
I had been with working with the campaign since senior year in high school and was completely enamored with it. The summer after freshman year at USC, I was working in Campaign Headquarters in Chicago and I had a decision to make: finish what I had started over a year ago or go back to school? There was too much at stake for myself, my family, and the country in this election and I didn’t want to wake up the morning of November 7 to a headline in the Los Angeles Times that read “Romney Wins” wondering if there was more I could have done. I had to fight for what I believe in– even if it meant not seeing my family, friends, and school for few months.

What was the most rewarding and the most challenging experience working for a political campaign?
There were many ups and downs on the campaign trail, but one particular night captured the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my experience with the campaign. It was the first week of October, and I was sitting in my office in Hollywood, Florida at about 2 am. I was exhausted and wouldn’t go home for at least another hour; we had been working 14 hour days with no days off since August and I was homesick and stressed. I’m not sure why, but I began to think about the people I love– my family and best friends. And for each one of them, I could think of something in this campaign that would affect them. The hopes and dreams of college students, ending discrimination, the dignity of work, the world we want to leave for the next generation– I was fighting for these things. And I could go to bed every night and wake up every morning knowing that, in my own small way, I was doing something to make this world a better place for the people I care about.

Lunch with ObamaWhat were your personal thoughts when Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage?
I was in my dorm in Parkside watching CNN when the news broke that President Obama had come out in support of marriage equality. I remember immediately thinking that this was a moment I would never forget (and texting literally everyone I knew). I thought about what this meant for LGBT kids and teenagers across the country who could now, for the first time in American history, look to their President and really believe that the arc of history bends toward justice. Clearly, there’s more work to be done, but having a fierce advocate in the Oval Office makes that work possible.

Within his a second term, what are your expectations for the President?
With regard to President Obama’s second term, one thing we should have learned from his first term is that change doesn’t come overnight. It is hard, it is tiring, but we need to keep pushing. I hope Congress can work with the President to craft legislation that makes sure that we have an economy built to last by investing in education and infrastructure, reducing the deficit, and making sure that everyone gets a fair shot and everyone pays their fair share. I also look forward to the President signing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes the DREAM Act, our troops coming home from Afghanistan, and passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.

How was it meeting the President?
Having lunch with the President was… awesome. In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and said that, being the son of a Black goat herder from Kenya and a White mother from Kansas, his presence on that stage was unlikely. But that his presence was also a testament to what is possible in America. As I sat down with President Obama for lunch, I thought to myself something similar. Being the son of two poor Mexican immigrants, my own presence next to the President was also unlikely. It was an extremely humbling experience and my conversation with him really solidified my belief that Barack Obama means it when he says he cares about average folks.

Oscar has been involved with Sigma Delta Alpha Fraternity and the Freshman Advocacy Board.

Thanks Given!

With the holidays coming up, the LGBT Resource Center asked a couple of our student leaders what they were thankful for this holiday season. Here’s what a few of them had to say.

Albert: I am thankful for being here at USC and a part of such an amazing community.  I can’t imagine being here at USC without QuASA or the Resource Center!

Christopher: I am thankful for my family, my friends, and the intersection of my communities… and chill music, cold nights, and mint-flavored everything.

Glenn: I am thankful for Facebook, text messages, and this new season of American Horror Story.

Mellissa: I’m thankful for masculine females and peanut butter crunch cereal!

Ortal: I’m thankful to attend a school where I am surrounded by such stellar people and incredibly hard workers.  My fellow students at USC always have and always will serve as one of my greatest inspirations to open my mind to new ideas and work my ass off to do things I never imagined as possibilities.

Patience: I am thankful for freedom of expression…how I can dress however I want and modify my body however I want!

Rosemary: I am thankful for my wife, health insurance that comes with our new domestic partnership, Obama winning and and a diverse congress than may mean equality is around the corner! I’m thankful for friends who keep me laughing, food to nourish my body, housing over my head, and a strong will to help others achieve the same.

Tell: I’m thankful for the people who come to TFE. I’m thankful for my friends and family, my cat Danny, and the people who invented sports bras (seriously, I just discovered their awesomeness this year).

Vanessa: I am thankful that my dad is healing and officially cancer free. I am also thankful that I haven’t lost my sanity or spontaneously combusted.

Happy Holidays!!

Carrying on the Torch

Georg and Angela, who are currently both seniors and active members of the LGBTQ community, recently were selected as Order of the Torch members, which is one of the highest honors the university can bestow upon its students. It is a life-long membership into a premiere group of Trojans who  serve as ambassadors for the university, promoting USC and the Trojan family to current students, prospective Trojans, alumni, the academic community, and the public. Read about what it means to them to be part of this great tradition.

1. What does it mean to you to be an Order of the Torch member?

Georg: Looking back at my freshman year, I did something called the Emerging
Leaders Program, ELP for short, and that’s a program where freshmen get to interact with Order of the Torch members. In ELP, I got to meet the twelve Order of the Torch members. They were really cool, interesting, and passionate people. They were passionate about different things. I feel that as part of Order of the Torch, I want to give that passion to the next generation, whether they’re freshman, sophomores, or juniors. It doesn’t matter what they want to do as long as they care a lot about it. There’s no point in doing something without being fully committed to the cause or without really putting your full self into it. Other than that, the things that I’ve heard about Order of the Torch is that we are present at Homecoming and that we do community service as well. I am looking forward to that aspect as well, to be able to give back to the community. Being at USC has given me so much already in growth and learning, and I want to give back to the community that has done so much for me already.

Angela: Being a member of the Order really symbolizes a slight change in campus climate for me. I’m noticing more and more that the only students who even know about the Order are student within the Greek system. The people who have heard about it and congratulated me are mostly people I don’t really know. Most people in the networks and communities that I’m involved with have never heard of the Order. Given that this is suppose to be one of the highest honors bestowed upon seniors at the university, it doesn’t make sense that large portions of campus have no idea it even exists. I would not have even known to apply if it wasn’t for my good friend in Program Board who told me about it. Hopefully getting more non-traditional students in the Order will help to make it more known and accessible to the populations on campus who are very much eligible for such awards, but just don’t know about it. It is a great honor to be in the Order, but with that comes a responsibility on my part to continue to pursue changes in the university to benefit underrepresented students.

2. What was one time or experience that made you feel proud of being a USC Trojan?

Georg: There were a lot of moments I’ve been proud to be a USC Trojan, but I feel like a lot of the times the Trojan Family is the key center. The first time I was on campus, I was told the Trojan Family is going to get you a job in the future. It’s like the network that we build here. What I was really proud of was an incident that happened a month ago in Birnkrant. I wasn’t on duty (as a Resident Adviser for the building) and I was out with another resident adviser. Suddenly, I received a call from the RA on duty. She called us for back-up because there was an intoxicated student situation within the building. We came back to help her. There were two or three residents who were helping us out as well. In the end, it turned out this student involved in the incident wasn’t really a student at USC. He was a student from another school. It didn’t matter that he was not a USC student; we were going to help him regardless of his school affiliation. The Trojan Family commitment to service spans beyond the Trojan Family. We care about people regardless. I felt really proud to be a Trojan.

Angela: Definitely witnessing a first budge on the part of the administration to offer a gender-neutral housing option on campus. Instead, administration allowed a gender inclusive option on the Rainbow Floor, but there is still a long way to go to make our campus safe and welcoming for all students, but it was definitely something to celebrate after working on proposals for over two years.

Congratulations Georg and Angela for this great accomplishment!