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Posted 11:08 pm
February 21, 2014

“Queer Your Rights” conference educates LGBT students on rights for housing, employment

The Queer Resource Center put on the first “Queer Your Rights” conference last Thursday in the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center.

The event was hosted by the Queer Resource Center, in conjunction with the Legal Resource Center, and ASI. Its  purpose was to educate students in the LGBT community about the legal rights and resources that are available to them. Speakers from eight different agencies spoke about problems facing the LGBT community and how to access help and support in the Bay Area.

“It’s refreshing to see so many organizations come together,” said  Pablo Ramirez, a communications major. “These individuals need all the support they can get.”

Cassidy Barrington, director of the Queer Resource Center, believes events like Queer Your Rights are needed to educate LGBT students, because many of them aren’t aware of their rights in California and “the laws are always changing.”

A variety of issues were discussed at the event, but  the major topics that were covered involved housing and employment.

Brandon Lawrence a staff attorney with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, which provides legal assistance to low-income tenants, spoke about the rights of renters. For example, if LGBT tenants are harassed by landlords or neighbors because of their sexuality, they can sue for emotional distress, according to Lawrence.

Another housing problem that disproportionately affects the LGBT community is homelessness. According to Jefferson Fellows from the homeless outreach organization on Larkin Street, LGBT youth often experience homelessness due to ostracism from their families. Employment and housing discrimination also contribute to the disproportionate LGBT homelessness rate, according to Fellows.

Omar Romero, the graduate representative for Associated Students Inc., listens to a speaker at Queer Your Rights, an event put on by the Queer Resource Center and Legal Resource Center, in Cesar Chavez Student Center, Thursday , Feb. 20th, 2014. The event brought speakers from different organizations to address the rights of queer and/or trans people.  Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress Omar Romero, the graduate representative for Associated Students Inc., listens to a speaker at Queer Your Rights, an event put on by the Queer Resource Center and Legal Resource Center, in Cesar Chavez Student Center, Thursday , Feb. 20th, 2014. The event brought speakers from different organizations to address the rights of queer and/or trans people. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress

The Queer Your Rights event also focused heavily on employment issues.

“We partner with Fortune 500 companies to help create safe workplace environments. We also connect LGBT employers with LGBT job seekers,” said Dave Velazquez of Out and Equal, which provides classes for employers on how to create respectful environments for LGBT employees.

While all the speakers acknowledged that discrimination against people in the LGBT community is still a problem, many of them said that the situation is getting better.

LGBT youth still have “a high rate of substance abuse, bullying and suicide that hasn’t changed,” said Robert Lopez, who works with the Lambda Youth Group, an organization for gay and lesbian teens in Hayward. “[But] more youth are coming out and there are more services for youth today.”

One of the events that Lambda Youth Group hosts is an annual prom for LGBT teens where they can “experience a prom free of harassment and fear,” according to the Lambda Youth Project website.

Lopez said that homophobia was much more prevalent and socially acceptable 20 years ago. “You had protesters (at the first gay prom). The event rallied allies who didn’t like that this assault was going on,” said Lopez.

Today, the LGBT community has more legal protections than they had when most of the organizations at the event were founded. “People aren’t so isolated,” said Kay Gordon, who works for the SF LGBTQ Speakers’ Bureau. “It’s nice to know you’re not the only one.”