LGBTQ+ Lehman students enjoy safe, inclusive campus


Lehman College threw a pride party a month early to ensure students felt included in the school’s events. Students visited various tables set up on the quad, danced to music and grabbed a pride flag to celebrate.

The NoH8 campaign, known for its headshot photos with tape over the subject’s mouth to indicate how LGBTQ+ people are often silenced, also attended the event.

The group took its 8 from Proposition 8, a 2008 law passed in California that, at the time, banned same-sex marriage.

Since then, a lot has changed.

Lehman students attending the May 8 pride event told The Press they safe and protected on campus, a reaction not often heard from LGBTQ+ people similarly situated at other schools.

Junior Andre Vasquezii, for example, said they have always felt safe on campus, and there is a safe space for queer students at Lehman, even at night or while traveling alone.

Dalila Turcios Orellana is a student member of the executive board for Crystal Queer, Lehman’s LGBTQ+ club. Orellana said the club currently has 55 registered members, a big jump from the last few of years.

She said pride events like the one held May 8 help get the club’s name known to other students, which is good because Crystal Queer’s role at public events is to let the LGBTQ+ community know it is supported.

The group also helps bring allies into the conversation.

Ben Holtzman is a history professor and the faculty co-advisor for Crystal Queer.

He said his time working with the club has been some of the most rewarding work he’s done at the college.

So much so, he said, his work with the club made his younger self feel seen.

“Visibility is important,” Holtzman said. “(So is) showing queer and trans students there are people on campus supporting them.”

He said creating a open and out-loud space for queer and transgender people also helps straight and cis-gendered people understand them better.

Student response to The Press May 8 made it clear Lehman has succeeded in achieving a safe space in a manner many other places have not.

Graduate Professor Stuart Chen-Hayes has his thoughts on the matter.

Chen-Hayes has worked at the college for 24 years, and was a former leader of Crystal Queer.

As an out-and-proud gay man, Chen-Hayes said he finds his role in the lives of his students helps them feel supported and listened to. 

“Students really come to rely most on faculty they can relate to, who share one or more of their identities,” Chen-Hayes said, adding when his students speak up he listens and acts on their contributions because he feels it’s important to honor their voices.

The professor said he wears many hats, including being the program coordinator for the school’s counselor education program, which means he gets to oversee some faculty too. In that capacity, he said he has made a concerted effort to fill his classrooms and faculty with teachers from all backgrounds and identities.

For example, students expressed to him wanting teachers who speak their language, so he made sure to hire bilingual professors.

“The institution as a whole has become much more diverse in terms of administrative staff, student affairs staff and in terms of faculty. I think our students continue to be super diverse,” Chen-Hayes said.

He said a campus climate survey from a few years ago provided data saying transgender students at Lehman did not feel like they were supported or had visibility at the school, in general.

This troubled Chen-Hayes, he said, because he wants the campus to feel safe for all and his department is just one of many.

Still, he said he is grateful students feel seen with the help of the work he and his colleagues have put into the space, but there is still plenty of work to do.

For example, Chen-Hayes said he has been fighting for a connection for LGBTQ+ faculty members.

He said he has expressed on multiple occasions to faculty that he has felt isolated and alone on campus and, despite having found queer and transgender people within the faculty on his own, he wants the college to make an intentional effort to connect them.

Lehman College, Pride event, LGBTQ+ inclusion, NoH8 campaign, safe space, Crystal Queer, LGBTQ+ club, campus support, faculty diversity, transgender visibility