OUTober is traditionally a week-long celebration of the LGBTQ + community at CSU Bakersfield. This year the celebration turned into a month of activities and events. Dr. Bre Evans-Santiago, Director of Teacher Education and Co-Advisor for the LGBTQ + network, shared her excitement at the network’s first face-to-face meet ‘n’ greet since the move to distance learning.
“The students enjoy coming and feeling welcome, and we open our arms to everyone,” said Evans-Santiago.
The importance of OUTober goes beyond social events and is very well received on a personal level by students, employees and lecturers of the CSUB. Bryan Castilla, who is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Psychology at CSUB, shares the value of OUTober as someone with a variety of lived experiences.
“To this day, I still hear derogatory words towards me, so being able to express yourself, being who you are and have a positive impact is all the meaning of this month,” Castilla said.
The importance of this month, which Castilla gives a voice, is reinforced especially in its importance in communities with a complex history of conservative values like Bakersfield.
In connection with this, Congressman, House Minority Leader, and CSUB alumnus Kevin McCarthy supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied recognition of same-sex marriages and state benefits that heterosexual couples receive. The law was declared unenforceable by the US Supreme Court in 2015.
This story is one of the challenges the local LGBTQ + community has faced in seeking belonging and freedom of expression. CSUB student Lynna Ha shares her perspective as a youth counselor at the Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity (The Center), a nonprofit that serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities in Kern County.
“I feel like living in Kern County especially, it’s kind of hard to find out who you are and to be yourself … Now, in 2021, it’s freer and we can come out and be who we are”, said Ha.
However, Bakersfield’s conservative leanings are actually one of the reasons Castilla chose to do his Masters at CSUB after graduating from California State University in Los Angeles.
“I was accepted into three schools, most of them in LA and this school which is a bit more conservative. One of my bosses told me, ‘Go where you feel you are needed’ and I feel like I belong here, ”Castilla said.
The LGBTQ + networks meet ‘n’ greet was one of many events the club sponsored for OUTober. Students can join the club for more information, resources, and peer support through Runnersync, the CSUB’s organization website for students, staff, and faculty to stay up to date on campus events, clubs, and organizations.
“Even during a pandemic, we want people to know we are here to support, love, and provide resources that they may need,” said Evans-Santiago.
Castilla shares these sentiments and encourages all students to attend OUTober and welcomes anyone who may hesitate to express themselves freely in the safe environment of CSUB.
“I’m queer here and I have an open ear,” says Castilla confidently.