Taking PRIDE in diversity

In August, Robb Guido had an epiphany while reading a story about police officers who made it known to the public they were gay.

“There was a quote that gave a low-ball figure saying that one in every 10 people are gay,” Guido said. “Then it made the point that if every gay person in America came out to 20 people, at least, and 10 were accepting and could handle it, 200 million people would have a newfound acceptance of gay people.”

As a result, Guido created “20 Steps to Freedom,” a project challenging gay USF students to tell 20 loved ones during the course of two months that they are gay. It is required that those they tell are straight and didn’t have any previous knowledge of the gay student’s sexual orientation.

“It was important that people came out to others who are important in their lives,” Guido said. “The point of the project was to increase personal freedom and expression of who they are, so it was necessary to come out to people in their environment.”

Guido took his idea to PRIDE, People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality, an organization that began in 1974 as Gay Coalition and is currently the oldest continuously funded gay, campus-based organization in Florida.

“PRIDE is a social organization, but we also serve as a support system and educational group on campus and in the community,” said Mary Beth Blackwell, PRIDE’s co-chairwoman.

The organization supported Guido’s idea and made a point to participate.

“We had some speakers come to our meetings and talk about their experiences when they came out and address the fears that people have,” Guido said.

PRIDE has more than 50 active members which helped make Guido’s project a success.

“Since the beginning of the semester, about 500 people have come out, too,” said Sarah Luvender, a community service coordinator for PRIDE. “And because of that, it’s given good publicity to our service organization.”

PRIDE had a party in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center on Wednesday to celebrate Guido’s project and National Coming Out Day on Saturday.

Guido, who came out to the USF Student Government and his chemistry class of about 200 students, said one of his goals with the project was to put some stereotypes to rest.

“A lot of people don’t know that I’m gay because I don’t fit that mold,” Guido said.

Blackwell, who visits classes to educate students about diversity, shares Guido’s sentiments.

“I love to speak on panels in classrooms answering GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender questions) because people can’t tell that I’m gay,” she said. “It puts me on cloud nine for a few days to break down stereotypes of what a gay person should be.”

PRIDE’s goal for the year is to integrate the club with more straight students and form a true alliance based on acceptance and respect.

Delta Lambda Phi, a new, predominantly gay fraternity, is trying to accomplish many of the same things, including recruiting straight members to help bridge the gap between straight and gay culture.

“In regards to a gay fraternity, I think USF is ready, but we need change because this campus is not welcoming to gay students,” Blackwell said. “People are separated and there isn’t a lot of social integrating. Just walking past Cooper Hall, you can pick out distinct groups of people. I want PRIDE members to have shirts and to sit everywhere, in all groups.”

The group also plans to have speakers who will teach the members how to lobby so they can become more politically active.

“Last year was not so strong, but we have well over 50 people at each meeting and a dedicated board, so I think that a lot of good things are going to happen this year,” Guido said.

As for Guido’s project, he wants it to grow and promote diversity not only on USF’s campus, but across the state.

“It was such short notice this year, but I hope that next year we’ll be able to have a rally and incorporate other universities,” Guido said.

Regardless of what it grows into, Luvender said the purpose of the project remains the same.

“The goal of Robb’s project, and of PRIDE, is to bring gay and straight people together to celebrate diversity and freedom,” she said.