LGBTQ+ Flag Raising Reaffirms Stockton’s Commitment to Inclusivity

This year's LGBTQ+ Flag Raising was hosted by student organizations Pride Alliance, Queer & Trans People of Color Society and the Coalition for Women's Rights.

Galloway, N.J. – The annual flag raising for LGBTQ+ History Month on Oct. 3 was one full of emotion, joy and support for the LGBTQ+ individuals both part of and beyond the Stockton University community.

President Joe Bertolino reminded attendees that their presence on campus is not only valued but mirrors his own experience as a gay undergraduate student.

“I started my career in higher education 33 years ago, and at that time, I was advised as a residence hall director that there was a gay glass ceiling: if you were out, then you could forget ever becoming a dean or a vice president, let alone a president,” Bertolino said. “To the naysayers in 1990: I want to share that this is actually my third presidency. My husband, Bil, is the vice chancellor of the Rutgers University system, and together, we smashed that ceiling.

“I share that with you because I want you to know that no one can tell you that being who you are will hold you back. Be authentic. Be honest. Be you and celebrate that.  We take pride in our diverse identities and are committed to creating a space where students can authentically be themselves and explore their identities. As long as I am the president of this institution, I will make sure that every student is seen and that they feel that they belong here in our community.”

Bertolino was introduced by Marques Johnson, associate dean of students, who acknowledged the people who made it possible for students to have a welcoming and inclusive campus.  

President Joe Bertolino hugging Marques Johnson
Marques Johnson, associate dean of students, introduced President Joe Bertolino after his remarks. 

“When I was thinking about the remarks that I wanted to share, I wanted to thank, recognize and stand on the shoulders of all of those who paved the way before us. I recognize the brave spaces that they created and all of the fights for equality and social justice that they did for each and every single one of us,” Johnson said.

“It reminds me that each day, we have an opportunity: an opportunity to walk in purpose, an opportunity to walk in compassion and an opportunity to make sure that we extend our hands, arms, love and grace to those around us. We are reminded that this fight is not just for the community, it's for our allies. It's for everyone, and we have to remember that when we show up each day,” he said.

Several student speakers shared their personal journeys, which had a common thread: an emphasis on family – whether by blood or chosen – and how their support has impacted them. 

“When you come out, there's a risk of losing everything and everyone you love,” Andrea Sandoval, president of the Student Senate, shared. “So, when I eventually came out, and my family accepted me with no issue, it was one of the greatest things ever in the world. My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and the way that they opened up their minds to accept me for who I was, was one of the most important things in my life. 

“That’s why I wanted to talk about the importance of allyship; you don't know what somebody's going through, and you don't know if those words of simply saying ‘I accept you’ will save their life or not,” Sandoval said. 

President Joe giving his remarks

Students in attendance, holding rainbow flags

Marques Johnson, associate dean of students, giving his remarks

Students in attendance, holding rainbow flags

Andrea Sandoval (center) giving her remarks with Mo Keane (left) and Yamirah Williams (right)

Jaxson with his rainbow tie

“I remember talking to my mom and dad in second grade about a crush I had, and they teased me and said I should learn how to cook and clean so when I get married, I’ll impress ‘his’ family,” Van Nhi Ho, a graduate coordinator for the Women’s Gender & Sexuality Center, said. “The journey of self-acceptance as a queer Asian woman is not an easy one: it is a journey that I took on quietly in the shadows. I was afraid of rejection.

“But like many of the students I interact with and many of the students I see today, the human spirit is resilient. We find strength in the face of adversity. We discover the courage to break free from the binds of our expectations, and we get to embrace our true selves and love who we are meant to love,” Ho said.

Kae Durrell, the first Black president of Pride Alliance, encountered adversity early on but persevered.

“I lived in a household that wasn't accepting. They would say I was a bad influence because I'm the oldest and I'm teaching them the wrong things. They wanted me to be an example, but in reality, me coming out, being who I am and still figuring out myself is the best example I could ever give to my community. I want students to know that they can love whoever they love, no matter how others feel.”

Mo Keane, co-founder and president of the Queer & Trans People of Color Society (QTPOCS), followed up by sharing their journey to self-acceptance.  

“I didn't grow up with a (Gay Straight Alliance) in high school. We didn't have pride events in my hometown. I had people who told me that I was going to hell and that camps, prayer and enough repentance could fix who I was. I let these voices, these lies and rhetoric, suppress everything that I wanted to be and everything that I knew that I was.

“I don't know what it was that changed within me. Maybe it was the right people around me, the right love in my life from friends, family, and those that I knew were on my side. But I realized that I didn't have to surrender myself to a life behind the lens. A life without a voice. I realized that the only person who could give me the love and acceptance that I so desperately needed was staring back at me in the mirror, waiting for me to patiently love them as much as they loved me,” Keane said. 

Stoktones, a noncompetitive co-ed acapella group
Prior to the flag being raised, Stocktones performed their rendition of the popular song "Boyfriend" by Dove Cameron. 

Zuleika Rodriguez Garcia grew up worrying about what her family would think about her identity, but found support.

“For most of my life, I hid hints of any sort of personality from (my parents) because I was scared that I would slip up and say something that would be considered ‘too gay’ and that there would be consequences,” said Garcia, public relations chair for QTPOCS and photographer for the Argo. “Since then, I have come out and it means the world to me to have their support. Everything I do is for them, so I wanted to share with them a small part of what makes me, me.”

“I just wanted to say that while I'm a person who recognizes that I have the privilege of having a good relationship with my family, as queer people, we are not limited to the people that were related to by blood. We have the blessing of being able to have our chosen families,” Yamirah Williams, president of the Coalition for Women’s Rights and external vice president for QTPOCS, said. “Our chosen families are those people that love us unconditionally. I have my chosen family out here. I have my amazing girlfriend over here. I have some of my best friends. That's my chosen family.”

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Students from last year's LGBTQ+ Flag Raising
Students River Hammell, '23, Kae Durrell, Mo Keane, '23/'24 and Dalia Moamed, '23, during 2022's LGBTQ+ Flag Raising. Photo by Eliza Hunt. 

Galloway, N.J. — Swaying peacefully in the wind, right across from its Latino neighbor, flies the LGBTQ+ pride flag following speeches in the Arts and Sciences Circle on Thursday.

The flag almost didn’t make it to its intended destination. Heavy rain and remnants of a recent hurricane caused the event to be postponed from the first day of October to Oct. 6.

But clear skies and positive vibes were present among those witnessing the flag raising. The ceremony, which kicks off a month of events in celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, opened with remarks from Dalia Moamed and Mo Keane from the student organization Queer/Trans People of Color Society (QTPOCS).

Both emphasized the significance of remembering and acknowledging the efforts of LGBTQ+ individuals of color, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who are credited with being an integral part of the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

– Story by Loukaia Taylor 

– Photos by Lizzie Nealis