‘Incredibly vibrant’: Queer organizations foster welcoming environment

photo of Mauro Sifuentes
Erik Martinez/SFUSD/Courtesy
Mauro Sifuentes, the first program director of the Queer Alliance and Resource Center, encourages “being in community together” by getting involved in student organizations supporting LGBTQ+ students.

The Queer Alliance and Resource Center, or QARC, has served as a hub for the queer community at UC Berkeley for decades while offering a range of student-led social, educational and safe-sex programming.

Its roots stem from the Queer Alliance and the Queer Resource Center, which began with student leaders involved in the Free Speech Movement. After the two groups merged together, the organization expanded to include its first program director, Mauro Sifuentes.

Motivated by their prior experiences working with queer and trans advocacy in nonprofit and public institutions, Sifuentes stepped into the position of program director in Feb. 2021. In an email, they described the student leadership on campus as “incredibly vibrant and active.”

“(QARC) is an opportunity to explore the progressive and radical possibilities for queer and trans advocacy in a public institution that has the political will to institutionalize pro-queer and pro-trans policies and practices,” Sifuentes said in an email.

According to Sifuentes, the QARC plans to fully open a community resource center in Hearst Field Annex this fall.

Sifuentes noted that the space will bring the queer community on campus together for meetings and events, as well as house safe-sex and gender-transitioning resources.

“While it’s been great for folks to stay connected during the pandemic through social media and smartphones, practicing in-person community building this next academic year will be hugely important,” Sifuentes said in an email. “Now more than ever we need to regain comfort and familiarity being in community together.”

According to its website, the QARC is affiliated with at least a dozen other registered student organizations on campus that come together for joint advocacy.

Among those organizations is T-Cal, which offers a weekly support group that meets every Monday night for both undergraduate and graduate transgender students to discuss their identities and experiences.

Rae Willis-Conger, who served as a facilitator last year, initially joined T-Cal while working on an ethnography research project, but later found a community.

“It was an intimidating process to enter a room like that and think it might apply to me, and it ended up being an important group for me,” Willis-Conger said. “I’m not a man, and not a woman, and it would have been easy to feel isolated with that level of ambiguity, and instead I felt a part of the trans community.”

Willis-Conger said they “eat food together and talk about what’s going on for us” during meetings and occasionally host social events such as hikes and parties.

Another organization associated with the QARC, Out for Business, is tailored toward connecting LGBTQ+ students interested in business and marketing.

Founder and president of Out for Business Teo Lin-Bianco brought back the organization last year after it disbanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a very specific community that doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to connect outside of this organization,” Lin-Bianco said. “Having that space to connect with other people who identify with the same sexual identity seeking careers in the same professions is very valuable.”

According to Lin-Bianco, the organization has hosted events supporting professional growth. This includes an application and workshop for the Out for Undergrad conference, which supports queer students across various fields.

Lin-Bianco noted that Out for Business seeks to not only serve career development but also foster social connections during movie and board game nights.

“Our space is open not just to queer-identifying people but allies and anyone interested in what diversity and inclusion mean in the professional space,” Lin-Bianco said.

Contact Zachary Khouri at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @zachakhouri.