Campus members gathered in the outdoor pavilion of the Fullerton Arboretum Oct. 22 to recognize the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals on campus.
Placed around the perimeter of the facility were images of LGBTQ high school athletes photographed by artist Jeff Sheng, whose photographic effort began more than a decade ago and has resulted in the photography book, “Fearless,” featuring the images of more than 200 ‘out’ athletes.
“I am proud to be here to celebrate with you,” said President Mildred García. “What an incredibly poignant time in history for us to gather, celebrate and honor the LGBTQ community. While legal obstacles for many underrepresented groups have been resolved in this country, some fundamental rights of the LGBTQ community continue to be withheld.
“But while some continue to dig their heels in on the wrong side of history, Cal State Fullerton is committed to changing history,” she added, vowing to reach out and support all to make them feel welcome on campus.
Melissa Barrios, a fourth-year student studying women and gender studies and president of the Queer People of Color campus organization, introduced keynote speaker Jeff Sheng.
“I started this project because I was a high school student who didn’t come out,” he explained, admitting that he travelled 3,000 miles from his home in Southern California to find himself, coming out to himself at the end of his freshman year at Harvard.
He took his first photo of an ‘out’ athlete while working as a teaching assistant at Brown University. Showing that image, Sheng noted that he was able to connect with that first student as an athlete.
“Photography was my way to explore … to push me to thinking about society … the project became an issue of inclusion,” Sheng said. The project was first exhibited in the hallways of the University of Florida’s student union and has since been showcased in college campuses, the headquarters of ESPN, NIKE and the NCAA, and internationally. His work is on exhibit through Oct. 31 in the Titan Student Union.
As he flicked through his images, Sheng noted the changes he has seen not just in his work with athletes but also his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” project that showcases service men and women between 2009-2011. He explained his growth, his path through his art and his current work on LGBTQ teen suicide survivors and a return to those in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” work.
Looking at his own high school tennis team photo — included in “Fearless” — Sheng noted, “That’s where my journey started.”
More images from the event are available on flickr.
Cal State Fullerton’s celebration of LGBTQ History month continues at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 28 with “Our Voices in the Workplace: Diversity and Inclusion Connections Reception” in the Ontiveros Rooms of the Titan Student Union and at 5 p.m. Oct 25 with the screening of “Paris Is Burning,” in the TSU Portola Pavilion.