Recent Vigil and Clothing Swap Support LGBTQ+ Students

Jennifer Rios (left) is one of the students who were able to make lifelong friendships and connections through programs like Oct. 24 and Oct. 25's Transcendence Clothing Swap.

Galloway, N.J. – Students didn’t just have a chance to meet their advisor on Preceptor Day — they also had an opportunity to participate in multiple Oct. 26 events organized for October’s national LGBTQ+ History Month.

During “Honoring the Lives and Identities of the Queer Community,” which included impactful speeches and a vigil for queer lives lost, a common theme among speakers was the importance of allyship.

Van Nhi Ho, the graduate coordinator for LGBTQ+ initiatives for the Women’s Gender & Sexuality Center, started off the speeches by defining what it means to be an ally to the queer community.

“In an allyship, you don't just step in when it's convenient or to say something just because you're asked to: You proactively are an ally to this community, not just when it's popular or when it's easy to show off to people on social media. It's an actual role to play actively in your life, and I think that in itself is a very powerful thing to remember, especially as students, that we can use our voices and be allies to multiple communities,” Ho said.

Choose Stockton” student Andrew Simoes decided to be vulnerable about his journey as someone who just recently came to terms with being and coming out as gay. Due to unfortunate circumstances, he was outed without his consent to his conservative mother, which led to him being forced to leave home.

However, after reconnecting with his father and with the support of his community on campus, his story has transformed from one of pain and grief to one of resounding hope.

“I would just like to say that there is hope for our community. Advocates and allies do exist, and you can support our community. Don't think that you have to do what my dad did. Just asking us, if you see what we're going through, ‘Hey, how's your day going?’ or even ‘What can I do to help?’ goes such a long way. And it does more than you think it does,” Simoes said. 

Andrew Simoes shares a moment with Candace Mitchell, director of Student Transition Programs
Andrew Simoes shares a moment with Candace Mitchell, director of Student Transition Programs, shortly after his remarks. 

Mo Keane, president of the Queer & Trans People of Color Society, encouraged the audience to be an ally in action, not just in namesake.

“To be an ally is more than just not being homophobic or transphobic: We ask that you be actively anti-discrimination and anti-hate. All the thoughts and prayers in the world do nothing if not translated into action. You have an obligation to yourself as an individual within the society and as someone who calls yourself an ally to call your friends out when they're making homophobic remarks or using slurs that aren’t theirs to reclaim or to check in when you see a trans individual being harassed.

“This is a world already filled with hatred, fear and violence. You have the ability to counter this hatred with love. This fear, with bravery. And this violence, with kindness. Allies, do not mourn us once we are dead. Protect us now in life. Fight for our voices to be heard. Contact your local representatives. Fight against the legislation that seeks to outlaw our existence. Show up to protest marches and rallies. Support queer businesses, queer artists, queer educators and queer people,” Keane said.

Keane, along with Jovin Fernandez, the director of the Multicultural Center, read out the names of 16 LGBTQ+ people who have died from violence, including 23-year-old Allen R. Schindler, Jr., 28-year-old O’Shea Sibley and 25-year-old Jenny De Leon. 


Fernandez encouraged students to think about life within the shoes of individuals in the LGBTQ+ community and to think and act with compassion.

“Imagine the threat of leaving your house every day knowing that you could be killed because of your identity,” Fernandez said. “We wanted to create a space today to say their names and to talk about this so that people can honor these identities and be more informed that this is happening often. While we may have only said 16 names, there are another 16 and another 16 after that that we could’ve continued to say. As allies and advocates, we have to do better at knowing this information, being able to recognize when these injustices are happening and what we can do on a smaller scale to prevent microaggressions, bias, and prejudice before it even leads to harm or assault. We can stop it and minimize it by just addressing these everyday little interactions.” 

Jovin Fernandez and Mo Keane read out 16 names of LGBTQ individuals who died from anti-LGBTQ violence

Students helped fold and sort clothes for the Transcendence Clothing Swap

Students, staff and faculty were invited to hear speeches, like Brian K. Jackson's, and participate in a vigil on Oct. 24.

Jennifer Rios has volunteered for every clothing swap since 2017

The speakers for the vigil - Brian K. Jackson, Andrew Simoes, Jovin Fernandez, Mo Keane and Van Nhi Ho

The students who volunteered for Oct 24 and Oct. 25's Transcendence Clothing Swap

When discussing allyship, Brian K. Jackson, chief operating officer of the Atlantic City campus, specifically highlighted the transgender community. He reminded attendees that the famous Stonewall Riots and the lesser-known Compton Cafeteria Riot both began with a transgender woman standing up for her human and civil rights, and the events becoming “cornerstones to community liberation.”

Unfortunately, the transgender community has been continuously pushed aside by the queer community despite their role in LGBTQ+ liberation, which has only exacerbated the violence that they face from those not accepting of their identity. Jackson said that in 2020, at least 29 transgender and gender nonconforming individuals were attacked and killed. In 2021 and 2022, the number grew to over 45 and 32, respectively, and those are just the ones that were reported and classified as homicides.

“Over the last several years, we've seen an increase in the number of reported anti-LGBTQ+ bias and hate-based incidences nationwide, particularly against our transgender brothers and sisters. And we all know that federal statistics of these crimes don't begin to tell the full story of what's really happening in our communities because so much of the harassment, discriminatory behavior and attacks are ignored or they go unreported,” Jackson said. "The transgender community is facing some serious challenges, and they need all of us to stand up and advocate with them and for them.”

One way the Stockton community is able to be an ally to those who are transgender or gender nonconforming is through the Transcendence Clothing Swap, a two-day event on Oct. 24 and 25 where the campus community donated clothing in exchange for clothing that better fits their gender identity. 

For the event, Lakeside Lodge came alive with music as students perused the racks and tables full of clothes, jewelry and other accessories. Fitting areas were available, and if students weren’t comfortable with using them, they were welcome to grab the clothes, try them on elsewhere and bring them back to Laura Shaw, assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services, who founded the swap in 2017, for next year. 

Christina Doros, a junior Visual Communication major, was able to find beautiful pieces to complete her wardrobe at Oct. 24's Transcendence Clothing Swap. 
Christina Doros, a junior Visual Communication major, was able to find beautiful pieces to complete her wardrobe at Oct. 24's Transcendence Clothing Swap. 

Shaw has been an integral part of the event ever since, even storing donated clothes at her home or the trunk of her car in between swaps. When asked how she was able to cultivate an environment on campus free of discrimination for the last six years, she pointed toward the students in the room helping to organize the clothes.

“I can’t speak to anything that happened without my knowledge, but I’ve never heard anything or had anything negative said to me,” Shaw said. “The students that are here all day are super kind and generous. I feel like students feel welcome here – even students who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Since its inception, the swap has happened on precepting days to accommodate students with full course schedules. Last year, the event expanded over two days to reach even more students. Those who are looking for a less stimulating or more private browse amongst the clothes were able to visit the Lodge all night to find what they were looking for.

The most memorable experience of the swaps for Shaw has been seeing students after they have found clothing that speaks to them. 

“For a lot of these students, this is the first time in their life where they’re able to try on clothes of the gender that they connect to without bias or worrying about a parent driving them to and from a store. They’re able to try on whatever they want at no cost. It’s a free and welcoming environment for them, and they walk out of here with bags of clothes and a huge smile on their face,” Shaw said.

Jennifer Rios, a Masters of American Studies student, shared how her cousin and friend were able to support her during her first days of transitioning with a shopping spree at the Hamilton Mall, but she said the experience was still a bit “nerve-wracking.”

Her experience was what inspired her to volunteer for the clothing swap every year since 2017 and to become a trans mentor on campus.

“Especially as somebody younger, they might not have the kind of fortitude to just go and do. They’re nervous and apprehensive, so they’re going to want something more private or to be around people who understand their situation better. When people start out in a culture or subculture, they’ll prefer to be around more people in that culture because it gives them a sense of security knowing that they’re not the only ones who feel like this,” Rios said.

These positive experiences don’t just have an impact on the students on campus: it has inspired a local high school to implement an event similar to the Transcendence Clothing Swap. Shaw plans to donate the clothes that didn’t find homes with university students to the school, which will make the clothes available to the entire community.

“The day is always fulfilling, full of love and connections,” Shaw said. “It’s worth every second.” 

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.
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. Photo by Lizzie Nealis. 

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.” 

– Story by Loukaia Taylor 

– Story by Loukaia Taylor

– Photos by Susan Allen