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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Campus Spotlight-from outcast to president: Colleen O’Connor

Colleen O’Connor, president of Stony Brook’s LGBTA, hopes to create a safe space for students on campus. Photo courtesy of Monroe University

Many clubs and organizations on a college campus are born out of a hobby, sport or book genre. But there are some organizations that have a deeper role; the Stony Brook Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) is one such organization. At the helm of this endeavor is junior English major Colleen O’Connor, the president of an organization that prides itself on being a safe space for those in the queer community who need a haven where they can be themselves.

“My definition of a safe space is both easy and hard to create,” O’Connor said. “Create a space where everyone feels safe, respected and comfortable. It sounds easy because, hey, all you have to do is not be a putz. But everyone defines putziness in different ways, so it’s a constant learning process.”

The LGBTA is meant to promote wider tolerance and awareness of the queer community and its issues, as well as provide an accepting environment for queer students and those who support the cause.

O’Connor has been aware of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer  (LGBTQ) community for a long time, even though she did not feel like a part of it until just before her time at college; she felt intensely isolated during her time in high school because she did not quite fit in.

“I felt a lot more like an outsider in high school than I did when I got to college,” she said. “You know how high schoolers are—they’re vicious, and I got pushed around a lot for plenty of reasons. I was shy; I was a nerd; I read a lot; I drew pictures; I wore glasses; I presented my gender in a way that ran contrary to what was socially acceptable. I caught a lot of flak for that last one; I remember being cornered a few times over it.”

Because of these experiences, O’Connor became a person who was determined to be a champion for the LGBTQ community.

“I came out in my senior year of high school, so the transition was pretty fluid,” she said. “I only started feeling like a member of the community when I got to college and got involved with activism. I did a lot of protesting in New Mexico since I went to school right there in Albuquerque, and getting around was cheap. Those were the days!”

Then O’Connor transferred to Stony Brook, where she quickly became involved in the LGBTA. She was involved in a similar club at the University of New Mexico, but she was not as active until she came to Stony Brook. She said that her experience in the organization has helped her develop as a person over the past couple of years.

“Getting to the LGBTA massively altered my perspective,” O’Connor said. “I started encountering so many strong and admirable people who had histories like mine, and I realized that it’s possible to have gone through shit and still be awesome and helpful to other people. It made me realize that my experiences can help other people — it almost gave me a purpose.”

O’Connor also strongly believes that the organization has lived up to its name during her time as a member and president.

“Not to toot my or the club’s horn, but I think we’re a pretty good safe space,” she said. “We make mistakes; everyone stumbles once and a while, but we’re always actively working to better ourselves and encouraging people to bring problematic things we say to our attention.”

O’Connor says that she does not take credit for where the club has gone in the past year. No one in the club is more important than anyone else. She gives credit to the organization’s e-board. As a team, they have done a good job steering the group through the good and bad times in the past several months. One of things that she is happy about is the return of outside speakers. Speakers were difficult to get due to the speaker fee cap of $2,000 as a part of USG guidelines.

As president of the club, O’Connor has developed a message for those inside and outside the LGBTQ community about feeling isolated.

“There will be people who won’t accept you,” she said. “And learning to live without them can be a painful experience, but you will have new people who will love you no matter what.”

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