La Unidad Latina breaks gender binary at Rainbow Center event

Students are seen during “Masoquista: The Gender (Non-Binary)" at the Rainbow Center in UConn's Student Union on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (Mei Buzzell/The Daily Campus)

At the end of “Masoquista: The Gender (Non-Binary),” La Unidad Latina’s (LUL) 4th annual presentation on LGBT issues at the Rainbow Center, members of the fraternity passed out pink, blue, green and gold paper stars. After instructing the audience to write the name of their best friend, closest family member, dream job, a community they belong to and their wider aspirations on each of the five points, the brothers went through a series of coming out scenarios in which rejection and acceptance determined each student’s fate.

If a student was received positively in an aspect of their life, such as by maintaining close friendships or achieving a life dream, the point stayed intact. If a student lost their job or was rejected by their family, however, the point was torn off and thrown in the trash. Though all suffered setbacks, students with blue, green and gold stars each found something to keep them moving forward in life while those with the pink stars, facing continuous hostility and discrimination, became part of the 40 percent of LGBT youth to attempt suicide.

Alex Rodriguez, a 5th-semester allied health major who led the discussion, said they decided to call the event “Masoquista,” or masochism, because people unfamiliar with gender identity issues sometimes view genderqueer individuals as exposing themselves to this pain by choice.

“The outsider that is not part of this group may see people as bringing it upon themselves, so that’s why we use the term masochist,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of you are very informed about these issues and that’s great, but we need to educate people who aren’t.”

Rodriguez and Daniel Muñoz, a 5th-semester psychology major, spent much of the presentation outlining the differences between sex (a person’s biological assignment), sexual orientation (who a person is physically attracted to), gender identity (how a person perceives themself) and gender expression using the now familiar genderbread person. The LUL brothers also zeroed in on several terms under the genderqueer umbrella, including gender non-conforming, gender fluid, agender and transgender, all different ways of signifying where a person identifies within or outside of the gender binary of male and female.

Rodriguez said it’s especially important to remember, though, that a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation isn’t defined by what they wear or who they’re dating - it’s something you can only determine for yourself.

“It’s okay if you don’t know what someone’s gender is, but what you can do is ask,” Rodriguez told the audience.

Rodriguez said another important point of intersection is race, as demonstrated by comparison of transgender celebrities Caitlyn Jenner and actress Laverne Cox. Many students in the audience agreed that Jenner’s privilege as a white woman has allowed her to become the face of the transgender community for many in America while Cox, as a black woman, is less widely known despite her continuous advocacy for LGBT rights.

The erasure of LGBT people of color from mainstream culture, Rodriguez said, is epitomized by the whitewashing of “Stonewall,” a movie about the 1969 riot following a baseless police raid of the popular New York gay bar.

“That trailer actually received a lot of backlash because it left out the transgender people of color who played a big role in the riots and kind of characterized the movement,” Rodriguez said, adding that director Roland Emmerich instead created Donny Winters, a fictional gay teen, because he thought a cis-gender white man would appeal to a wider audience.

Fleurette King, director of the Rainbow Center, said LUL’s presentation coincided perfectly with the increasing visibility of genderqueer individuals in society.

“I am so proud of this tradition we have with the brothers of this fraternity,” King said. “Gender identity is big right now so we need to get a grip on that.”

Muñoz said LUL, formally known as Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Incorporated, helped him find a home on campus.

“They fought for LGBT rights so much,” Muñoz said. “I feel like joining this fraternity helped me come out of my shell and as a person.”

Rodriguez said he had a similar experience when he joined LUL after coming to Storrs last year.

“We try to dispel the stereotype that fraternities are all about parties and drinking,” said Rodriguez. “Our main goal is to bring people together on issues that affect us, because even if you don’t know it they do."

La Unidad Latina will have an open meeting for all interested students on Dec. 7 at 7:15 p.m. in Student Union room 106A.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.