President Bertolino, Mark Ojakian, hold conversation about sexuality

Josh LaBellaNews Writer

Southern Connecticut State University President Joe Bertolino and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian told students they had no set agenda besides discussing their experiences as openly gay leaders and then to give students an opportunity to talk to them about it.

The event, titled Out: A Conversation with President Joe and President Mark Ojakian, was held in the Adanti Student Center Resource room at 7 p.m. last Wednesday. President Bertolino said they wanted to share how they got to where they were today. President Ojakian said that when he was younger, it was very difficult to be gay. He said a lot has changed since then.

“I’m very proud that as my life has evolved I’ve been able to check my insecurities at the door—to embrace who I am,” said Ojakian. “Being gay doesn’t define who I am. A lot of people try and put you in that whole. It doesn’t define everything I do in my life.”

Ojakian said people should be whoever they are and be proud of it. He said they should express themselves however they see fit. He said coming out is a very personal experience and a person should do it when they are ready.
“If you’re ready, you will,” said Ojakian. “If you’re not, it’s your own business. Your privacy and your right to that self-awareness is yours and yours alone.”

President Bertolino said when he came out to his parents, they said they still loved him but they did not understand it. He said he realized the people in their lives are also a part of the coming out process. He said once he was out he was out. Bertolino said for the rest of his professional career he only worked at places that are supportive of his community.

“What I have found most rewarding is that I’m not the gay president, I’m president of Southern, who just happens to be married to a man,” said Bertolino.

One topic that came up several times throughout the night was religion and how it coincides with being gay. One student asked how the two men, who were raised catholic, defend their faith to their sexuality. Ojakian said while he still believes in a higher power, he does not go to church anymore because he does not feel comfortable.

“When I was struggling with this [sexuality] I went to confessional,” said Ojakian. “I expected to hear words of wisdom. But he told me I should come around to the socials they hold to meet a woman that I could spend the rest of my life with. The experiences that I’ve had with being a catholic have not been particularly constructive to who I am today.”

Kiara Wells, a sophomore media studies major who organized the event on behalf of the Sexuality and Gender Equality (SAGE) center, said she put together the event as a part of social justice month to show students that coming out is not just one event but a process.

“I thought that bringing President Joe and the president of CSCU to come and talk about the importance of coming out and the importance of living your truth, would be a great thing for students to know,” said Wells.

According to Wells, the questions about the overlap between religion and sexuality were a great reflection of what they wanted to do at the event. She said people coming out isn’t just about your sexuality, but about how all of your influences combine into one person. She said she was really happy with how the event went.

“This was a major discussion of likeminded people,” said Wells, “just coming in and talking about how to live better and how to learn.”

Photo Credit: Palmer Piana 

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