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Community Profile: C. Anthony Keen heads up SDSU's new LGBT Pride Center

SAN DIEGO -- At a substantial college campus with 30,000 students, SDSU's new LGBT Pride Center helps to enrich, sustain and support an all-inclusive gathering space for persons of all sexual and gender identities as well as their allies.

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News speaks with C. Anthony Keen, the coordinator of the Pride Center, about the necessity for such groups on campus as well as his advocacy for embracing SDSU’s rich cultural and social diversity.

Age: 30

Hometown: Oceanside, Calif.

Single or taken: Happily taken! My partner works as an associate producer at The Old Globe Theater and we have a very diva-like, 5 year-old Shih Tzu named Indie.

How many years have you been in San Diego?

While I was born in Michigan, I moved to North County (San Diego) just around age 2, so I'm a proud San Diegan. I left for college (UC Riverside) and then graduate school (New York University), with a few stops in between (Santa Barbara and back to NYC for a few years). I moved back in 2011 to work at SDSU in another capacity, and am happy to be home!

You’re involved an incredible organization, SDSU's new LGBT Pride Center. How’d you get started there?

My passion and the reason why I work in the field of student affairs is rooted in social justice and in supporting students positive personal and professional development throughout their college career. I started at SDSU as a Residence Hall Coordinator, overseeing approximately 550 predominately first-year students in a residence hall. My department supported my involvement with the development of social justice initiatives which ultimately led to my involvement in the committee that would lay the groundwork for The Pride Center. However, efforts to create a LGBTQ center at SDSU have been ongoing since at least the 1990s, with a few official proposals for a center being presented at a few different times since then. The collective effort of SDSU's LGBTQ Advisory Board, made up of students, staff, and faculty -- as well as our very supportive university president, Dr. Elliot Hirshman, The Pride Center launched. It is important to note that the center would not be in existence without the work of this group, as well as the extensive efforts of various individuals on our campus who have been doing LGBTQ work for many years (Doug Case, Dr. Mary Kelly and Dr. Susan Cayleff, just to name a few).

Why is this organization essential to the college, the community, society as a whole?

I could go on and on about why community centers are such an essential component of college campuses - and indeed our communities more broadly. What this boils down to is the need for people within specific communities (in our case lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, allies, and the other variety of sexual orientation and gender identity communities that exist) to find a place where they can be fully themselves. Being fully oneself involves a feeling of safety and a place where someone feels a sense of normalcy. When so many of our students rarely feel that way during any other part of their daily lives, we literally can be the difference between someone thriving as a human being for the variety of learning and leadership development opportunities offered through our center, and someone leaving the University, or worse. With many of the advances that our communities have experienced, there's still so much work to be done – and prejudice never rests so we must never rest. I would like to point out that transgender communities around the world experience some of the highest levels of invisibility and often violence. Centers like ours help to relate the experience of such a marginalized community while building people up.

What are some events and activities SDSU's new LGBT Pride Center carries out to enrich student life?

Despite having just opened, we already have a strong programming schedule, discussion groups, community connecting points, educational opportunities, and other types of community building. A five part implementation process has been ongoing and has proven a successful way to continue carrying out our mission: programming, staffing, campus & community collaborations, campus climate survey, and physical space and branding. Since I was hired in October we have opened our physical space, completed a space identity with logo and website, hired graduate and undergraduate student staff, and are moving full steam ahead with various programmatic and community building efforts. Of particular note, we will be hosting our first-ever Transgender Week of Empowerment during our first week back from Spring Break in April; which is a collaborative effort of many other organizations on our campus doing great work.

What’s a little piece of trivia we don’t know about you, Anthony?

I would say I'm a total groupie for 1980s shows like the "Golden Girls" – but I doubt many folks who know me (or of me) would find that surprising – I have a floor-plan of their house in my office. Hmm, I would say I was a HUGE band geek at Vista High School, and I played the alto saxophone from third grade through most of college.

What would you like to see change in the LGBT community?

The fact of the matter is that the LGBTQ communities are constantly growing and changing – it's a part of life. With that said, I am excited about the changes I see with regards to our national conversation shifting and the growing civil rights movement for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and otherwise non-heterosexual folks. However, I am concerned about the lack of visibility within the transgender communities and particularly the disproportionately high rates of violence as well as discrimination experienced by transgender individuals. I also hope that we continue to embrace on where we are beautifully different across race, religion, socioeconomic status, national origin, religion, and so on that only enriches our LGBTQ communities.

What do you like most about the local LGBT community?

I love that the San Diego community has visibility! While not everyone in the San Diego LGBTQ communities are always represented equally, I see us as a visible force within the city, county, and nationally. The fact that our local elected officials and the higher level of administration of SDSU participate in the San Diego Pride events says to me that this is a place where our communities are interwoven into the fabric that is San Diego.

What sorts of things do you do to enrich your social life outside of SDSU's new LGBT Pride Center?

Spending lots of time with friends and family – particularly my partner and previously mentioned dog, Indie. Given my partner's job, I see a lot of theater, which I developed a love for at an early age from my grandmother. Beyond that, all I need are good friends, good food, and good drinks.

If you could host a dinner party and invite three people (dead or alive), who would they be and why?

I knew I'd get asked this someday, I just didn't realize it would be for a publication! First, my grandmother who passed away in April 2012 after fighting a 22-month battle with pancreatic cancer – she was one of the best friends I will ever have and I miss her everyday. Secondly, Harvey Milk. This may seem like an obvious choice, but I first read the book “Mayor of Castro Street” while I was still sorting myself out and he has always inspired the work that I do and to never stop working for what's right and inclusive. And third, President Obama – I see him as someone who keeps trying to move forward despite a sometimes insurmountable climate and I would love some insight.