Alphabe+ club unites community with tales of heroism, confidence


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Psychology major Enrique Duarte holds a safe zone card during the Alphabe+’s Club “Out and About” event in the Fireside Hall on Thursday. The safe zone is made of a committee of staff that are available to hear out and talk about any problem students have.

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

An array of colorful balloons danced outside of Fireside Hall May 9, as music, food and an inviting atmosphere welcomed Contra Costa College’s campus community to The Alphabe+ Club’s first major event of the semester.

“Out and About” celebrated the LGBT+ community while aiming to establish a space for meaningful conversation.

“The whole idea is to bring pride to the campus,” Alphabe+ Club President Mauricio Enrique Duarte said. “I want to give students and (staff) a platform that can possibly help other people.”

He said that the initial idea was to have a whole week of events, but with the semester winding down the Alphabe+ Club decided to aim for one big day of recognition.

As guests began to take their seats, Duarte made his way to the microphone.

The love and support could be felt emanating from the room, which radiated a calm and safe ambiance throughout the entire event. A panel discussion of safe zones around campus was first on the agenda.

Each committee member introduced themselves and the location of their individual safe zone. The panel included Student Life Coordinator Joel Nickelson-Shanks, Senior Executive Assistant to the President Michael Peterson, Dean of Equity and Institutional Effectiveness Mayra Padilla, library department Chairperson Andrew Kou and counselor Norman Valdez-Jimenez, who said, “I’m a proud member.”

After a round of applause, Duarte returned to the microphone to courageously discuss, along with the panelists, their stories of coming out to their families.

This was the focus of the event, as it exemplified the heart and soul of gay pride. “Sometimes we have different coming out stories,” Duarte said. “And sometimes individuals have multiple coming out stories.”

Peterson shared his heartfelt memories of coming out to his mother while his father was out of town.

“I knew since I was conscious, that I was different,” he said. Peterson said he remembers the fear and the uncertainty that held him back from telling his parents that he was gay. “I was lucky. I was able to tell my father, who accepted me,” he said.

Middle College High School student Junior Fernanda Mayorga said Duarte mentioned the event during their La Raza studies class and after she approached him with interest.

Mayorga, who identifies as asexual, was a part of the six-member panel and shared her coming out story after Peterson.

She said it wasn’t hard coming out, but getting her parents to listen was the real challenge. “They didn’t want to consider it,” she said. Mayorga said it was her sister who really played a part in being there when she needed someone to talk to.

Other members of the panel included math professor Sue Van Hattum and Duarte, who closed out the event with his own heart tugging coming out story. Duarte said as his father’s first born son, his dad really wanted him to be manly and play sports but he wasn’t into that.

He said it was a struggle going to middle and high school because bullying incidents that happened in elementary school followed him into his teenage years.

“These situations really made me doubt myself.”

Duarte said that he finally came out to his dad during a big argument when he was 17 years old.

After being kicked out of the house, Duarte said he went down a bad path.

“My dad saw how bad I was doing and he told me to come back home,” Duarte said. As the event concluded, the audience, now noticeably smaller, maintained a feeling of unity and acceptance that filled the room.

Padilla asked for the microphone and closed out the afternoon with words of admiration.

“Your leadership has been so beautiful to see,” she said to Duarte. “I am so proud of the work you have done.”

Duarte said that planning an event like this was hectic, but everyone who helped was extremely dedicated and encouraging.

“It means a lot. I’m really appreciative and proud of everyone who was involved.”

Van Hattum said she’s been teaching at CCC for 16 years and nothing like this has ever been done. “It’s really beautiful to see faculty come out and support.”