30 Days of Pride

LGBTQIA awareness is always in season, but during Pride Month in June, there's a heightened sense of visibility and community. These CSU faculty members, students, alumni and staff are committ​ed to breaking down closet doors year-round.​

The LGBTQIA community is blessed with activists who dedicate their lives to fighting for equal rights. Past luminaries such as Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lorde and Edith Windsor changed the course of history, making their names synonymous with the movement. There are also those who may not garner the same widespread attention but still make huge strides in the ongoing effort for equality—people like pride center counselors, student leaders and faculty members who provide support. Click on each day below to meet just a few of the LGBTQIA members of the CSU who represent all the colors of the rainbow.

Robert Garcia, Ed.D.
Mayor of Long Beach
Alumnus, Cal State Long Beach
'02, '10

Robert Garcia, Ed.D. is Long Beach's first openly LGBTQIA elected mayor and the first person of color and Latino American to hold the office. Dr. Garcia is a first-generation student and was part of the first cohort of students to graduate from CSULB's​ doctoral program in educational leadership.

​Sally G​earhart
LGBTQIA Activist, Professor, Author, San Francisco State Professor Emerita

Sally Gearhart is the first out lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the U.S.—a distinction she achieved while teaching at San Francisco State. She passed away in 2021 at the age of 90.

Photo: Silvia Turchin

Eric Kupers
Theatre and Dance
Department Chair,
Cal State East Bay

Eric Kupers helped assemble CSUEB's first-ever Inclusive Performance Festival, a grassroots event committed to radical inclusion of artists and activists with and without disabilities, of all shapes and sizes, from all cultures, all gender expressions and all art forms and modes of communication.

Krystle Tonga
API Student Success Center Coordinator
Cal State East Bay 
Alumna, Chico State '11

Krystle Tonga enhances the work of diversity, equity and inclusion at Cal State East Bay by educating and promoting inclusive practices that elevate the experience of under-represented and marginalized communities at the faculty, staff and student level.

Ramon "Ray" Visaiz
Assistant Director 
Alumnus, CSU Channel Islands '16, '22

As an undergrad at CSU Channel Islands, Ramon Visaiz single-handedly planned CSUCI's first Rainbow Graduation. He even secured renowned LGBTQIA author Ronni Sanlo, Ed.D., whose life was the inspiration for the movie called Letter to Anita, as the guest speaker. He received a master's in education at CSUCI and now serves as assistant director of the Learning Center at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles.

Bowen Neumann
Graduate Student
Alumnus, Sacramento State '21

As an undergrad, Bowen Neumann worked at the Pride Center as a peer counselor, where he supported students through their personal and academic endeavors. Neumann has helped his peers feel seen, heard and appreciated during one-on-one sessions. He is now pursuing a master's degree in social work at Sacramento State.

daniel soodjinda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Stanislaus State

Daniel Soodjinda, Ph.D., is an associate professor of liberal studies and teacher education. He has conducted research with LGBTQ+ Asian American students At Stanislaus State, Dr. Soodjinda serves as a mentor in the LGBTQ+ Mentorship Program.

Bonnie Sugiyama
Director, San José State PRIDE Center and Gender Equity Center
Alumni, Sacramento State '04, '11

Bonnie Sugiyama has worked on social justice issues as a student and a professional at several CSU campuses for 20-plus years, including: the advocating and founding of the Pride Center at Sacramento State; the re-visioning and creation of the Sonoma State University's Center for Culture, Gender and Sexuality (now the HUB); and the founding director of the PRIDE Center at SJSU.

thelma iwuchukwu​
Alumna, CSU Dominguez Hills '21

While completing her master's degree in occupational therapy, Thelma Iwuchukwu was deeply connected with the Queer Culture & Resource Center at CSUDH for more than two years. Initially, Iwuchukwu was a volunqueer, then became employed as a student assistant. Prior to the pandemic, she facilitated community-building and educational efforts within CSUDH's physical space. During the pandemic, she collaborated with other student advocates and volunqueers to curate digital spaces such as the Flipgrid class titled Queer Culture & Community, promoted peer wellness and engagement on CSUDH's Discord group-chat platform and facilitated other social and educational events for the community and campus.​

James Martinez
Trustee, Fresno County Board of Education
Alumnus, Fresno State '10

James Martinez is the director of operations for the Associated Students, Inc. at Fresno State. He is recognized at the state and national levels as the first openly gay male elected official in Fresno County.

Eric Gonzaba
Assistant Professor, American Studies
Cal State Fullerton

Eric Gonzaba was recognized with the Emerging Open Scholarship Award from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute for the project Mapping the Gay Guides, which explores American LGBTQIA spaces since 1965.

Bianca Tonantzin Zamora
Writer and Social Justice Educator
Alumna, Sonoma State

Bianca Tonantzin Zamora has held several roles in which she served as a queer ally, including as a coordinator and national workshop leader for CSUMB's Otter Cross-Cultural Center. She was also chair of the Monterey County LGBTQ+ Collective and is now the Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Stanford University. Zamora believes in and celebrates the power, brilliance and knowledge of Queer communities.

Chrystian Smith
Graduate Student
Alumna, San Diego State '21

As an undergrad, Chrystian Smith served as the Associated Students vice president of Internal Affairs for the 2020-21 academic year, a peer educator at the SDSU Pride Center and a Quest for the Best honoree. She is now pursuing a master of arts in postsecondary education leadership and serves as a Restorative Justice Project Assistant at San Diego Mesa College.

Eloy Garcia
Cal State San Bernardino

Eloy Garcia cofounded The Pride Pack, an LGBTQIA club on campus, and created the podcast LPDcast, which provides first-generation students of color with skills, habits and resources that are conducive to leadership and professional development.

Laurel Holmstrom-Keyes
Professor, Women and Gender Studies, 
Sonoma State

Laurel Holmstrom-Keyes coordinates a series of online forums called Tuesday Talks and helps maintain the LGBTQIA community listserv and website. She keeps the SSU LGBTQIA community connected by sending out reading and movie-viewing lists. Holmstrom-Keyes was instrumental in launching SSU's Safe Zones Program, has served on numerous coming out and educational panels and offered training for the campus community.

Amber St. James
Alumni, San Diego State '20

Amber St. James is a SDSU Strategic Planning Committee member. St. James has long been a strong advocate for improved visibility and support for members of the LGBTQIA community and for the university's strategic plan, with a particular focus on diversity, retention and success initiatives. St. James was the president and founder of the Black queer organization BlacQ Space​ on campus and lead programmer of SDSU's drag shows.

Dan Perez-Sornia
Assistant Director, USF Cultural Centers
Alumni, Humboldt State '20

Dan Perez-Sornia was the first nonbinary member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority at Humboldt State. “Even though sororities and fraternities are very gendered organizations, it's important to know times are changing," Perez-Sornia says. “I'm the embodiment of that change."

After graduating from Cal Poly Humboldt, Dan received a master's degree in higher education and student affairs from the University of San Francisco and is looking to pursue an Ed.D. in international and multicultural education in the fall. They continue to work toward LGBTQIA justice in higher education, inspired by the love of their Delta Phi Epsilon sisters.

Andrew Spieldenner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Communication
CSU San Marcos

Andrew Spieldenner, Ph.D, is one of two new North American delegates to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 by connecting governments, nonprofits and the private sector in providing life-saving HIV services. As a non-government delegate, his duties include developing and negotiating with member states to advance progressive HIV policies around the world.

Andrew Oca
Engineer, NOAA
Alumnus, Cal Maritime '22

As an openly gay cadet at Cal Maritime, Andrew Oca's mission was to bring visibility to the LGBTQIA community on campus. Through his many leadership roles, including being president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, Oca helped shape the school's uniform and grooming standards to be more inclusive to transgender and gender-nonconforming cadets. Oca served as the vice-chair for culture on the Cal Maritime Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, as well as the university's student housing director. He now works as a third engineer assistant for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Frank Rojas
Alumnus, Dominguez Hills '19

While at the L.A. Times, Frank Rojas wrote a personal essay on his coming out story​. He was also a member of The Wall Las Memorias Project, a community health and wellness organization dedicated to serving the Latinx LGBTQIA community of Los Angeles. Rojas now writes for the LAist, where he reports on the intersectionality of identities and the complexities of communities of color.

Jay Bettergarcia
Professor, Psychology
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Jay Bettergarcia launched the SLO ACCEPTance Project​, a multiyear series of trainings that equip therapists to better serve the LGBTQIA community.

Grace Vallejos
Alumna, Cal Poly Pomona '22

As an undergrad, Grace Vallejos served as the president of Cal Poly Pomona's Out in STEM chapter, which advocates for fostering community and spreading awareness of minority intersectionalities. “LGBTQIA advocacy means appreciating our queer ancestors, who gave their lives fighting for our rights and whose work we can still continue today," Vallejos says. “During the pandemic, a sense of normalcy, comfort and family away from home were needed more than ever. One of the most powerful ways to advocate can be as simple, yet profound, as cherishing the people and communities you already love."

cynthia wang, Ph.d.
Assistant Professor, Communications Studies 
​Cal State LA

​​Cynthia Wang, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of Communication Studies. ​She was named a 2021 ​Emerging Scholar by Diverse Magazine. Her research interests include the role critical theory and rhetorical perspectives play in the discourse around social justice issues, particularly as mediated by social network platforms. Dr. Wang is the founder of The ArQuives​, a digital location-based LGBTQ story-telling platform.​

Jason June
Alumnus, CSUN '13, '16

Jason June has written queer-inclusive young adult books, including Mermicorn Island and Jay's Gay Agenda, published by Scholastic and HarperTeen. “This last year has taught us so much about how the universe can throw so many punches our way," he says. “What we really need now is a chance to laugh, a chance to connect to each other."

Micah Savin
Ph.D. Candidate
Alumnus, CSU San Marcos '18

When Micah Savin was 25, he lost the love of his life, Philip, to AIDS. Philip's last request was for Savin to “love others as you have loved me." That experience sparked his passion for neuroscience, specifically the impact AIDS and HIV have on the brain. A first-generation American Indian college student, Savin overcame numerous obstacles on the path to earning his degree, including being homeless for portions of his childhood. He is now in the Ph.D. program at Fordham.

Kris Grappendorf
Lecturer, Kinesiology 
CSU Bakersfield

Kris Grappendorf has long been an advocate for and mentor to many LGBTQIA students. She began as co-chair of the LBGTQIA faculty staff affinity group in its inaugural year and launched the first of many LGBTQIA events on campus. Grappendorf initiated the proposal to seek the Campus Pride designation as an institution and assisted with the first Lavender Graduation Celebration. She also helped develop the first-ever Pride Week on campus and worked with the athletic department to create its first Pride Night at an intercollegiate volleyball game. 

Julia Balén, Ph.D.
Professor, English and Freedom & Justice Studies
CSU Channel Islands

Julia Balén, Ph.D., has helped move the needle significantly in terms of LGBTQIA awareness at CSUCI and in the community with her social activism. In the wake of several LGBTQIA suicides/murders, Dr. Balén organized a service learning project for her LGBTIA studies class. She had students research different aspects of bullying and organize a local anti-bullyi​ng summit​ for educational and religious leaders to learn more about how to create safer spaces for our youth. The summit resulted in ongoing social action and activism.

Alisha Valavanis
Team President and CEO,
Seattle Storm
Alumna, Chico State '00, '04

Alisha Valavanis has been an outspoken advocate for equality related to women's sports. In 2016, she was presented with the Chico State Distinguished Alumni Award. Valavanis led the Seattle Storm to a fourth WNBA Championship in 2020​.

Ken Yeager
Political Science Lecturer, Former Politician, Activist
San José State

Ken Yeager was the first openly gay elected official in Silicon Valley, the first as a trustee of the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, the San Jose City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He is currently working on a groundbreaking history project focused on the LGBTQIA community in the San José-Santa Clara region. The website queersiliconvalley.org​ is now considered the prime repository of local LGBTGIA history.

Annika Anderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Sociology,​ Director/Principal Investigator for Project Rebound
Cal State San Bernardino

Annika Anderson, Ph.D., leads a team that seeks to establish an alternative to the revolving door policy of the criminal justice system by eliminating barriers that prevent the formerly incarcerated from succeeding and graduating from college. Dr. Anderson was selected as a 2016 Summer Research Institute Fellow​ for The Racial Democracy, Crime & Justice Network at Rutgers University-Newark's School of Criminal Justice.

To meet more remarkable members of the CSU LGBTQIA community, visit Portraits of Pride.