Cal Armed Forces Alumni hosts 1st LGBT event for community, veterans

Nicole White/Staff

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Veterans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community members gathered at the campus Alumni House on Monday evening for a networking event to raise awareness about support and allyship services available for students in the UC Berkeley community.

The occasion, the first LGBTQ event hosted by Cal Armed Forces Alumni, or CAFA, featured tabling and speeches by members from several campus groups, including the Gender Equity Resource Center, or GenEq, the Educational Opportunity Program and the Cal Veteran Services Center.

“These gatherings are important,” said Marcos Ramos, an academic counselor at the Educational Opportunity Program who tabled for the program at the event. “They’re necessary to providing services (and) to (letting students) know they have access to a community of student service professionals.”

Most of the event’s approximately 45 attendees were UC Berkeley alumni, veterans, members of the LGBT community or a combination of the three.

“This is a landmark event,” said Phil Litts, a UC Berkeley graduate who served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years. “I don’t know if there’s anything like this anywhere else in the country. With Cal, that’s not unusual.”

CAFA, founded in 2012, funds and collaborates on efforts to ensure that veteran alumni have access to resources to gain admission to and achieve success while at UC Berkeley, according to the group’s mission statement. Raymond Banks, the organization’s president, said he hoped to make the gathering an annual event.

“These are the programs that really do what they say they’ll do,” said Mildred McKinney, who worked with Banks as a member of Opengate, Inc., a program that aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals find full-time employment.

The event featured speakers with experience as LGBT members serving in the armed forces. Zoe Dunning, a former U.S. Navy commander and LGBT activist, told the story of her becoming one of the first service members prosecuted under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy, which forbade service members from serving openly, and her two-and-a-half-year legal battle to fight her discharge.

“It doesn’t happen often that you can be in a room and hear civil rights leaders,” said Alex Randolph, a volunteer with Cal Alumni Pride.

Joseph Rocha, a former canine handler in bomb detection with the Navy, spoke of his struggles with severe hazing because of his sexual orientation. In 2009, his story was published in major news outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post, contributing to popular efforts to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011.

“I get to see a new generation that isn’t tormented by the things that afflicted us,” Rocha said.

On Thursday, the Queer Alliance Resource Center and GenEq will sponsor a welcoming event for LGBT students and allies at the Multicultural Community Center at Hearst Field Annex D37.

Alex Barreira covers student life. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.