the voice and vision of a new generation
Photo credit: Aaron Giglio

College sweethearts: Inside the lives—and loves—of a new generation

February 15, 2018

LGBTQ activists are often portrayed in the media as faceless mobs, fighting and screaming. Yet these portrayals do not paint the full picture of who these advocates are and what drives them into the streets, fighting for justice. The reason to fight for many — as cheesy as it may seem — is love. This love for self, love for others, and love for community has been the foundation upon which much of the LGBTQ movement for acceptance is built on.

LGBTQ expressions of love as activism have a deep history and a bright future. The College Sweetheart series, featured below, explores conceptions of love, identity, media, and activism in the lives of young LGBTQ activists who were finding themselves and falling in love during the LGBTQ movement of the 21st century.

The series features stunning photographs and Q&A responses of young activists who are members of GLAAD’s Campus Ambassador Program. The series was photographed by GLAAD Campus Ambassador and photographer, Aaron Giglio.

Check out the College Sweethearts photo series and interviews below.

Josua Lutian, Colby College

How has your identity influenced your activism and visa versa?

Because I am a gay, brown, Asian, and non-American man I get to experience my queerness through a different lens than most of the people portrayed in the LGBTQ+ community. I think about intersectionality a lot. My journey was paved by the way my Filipino culture molded my ideas about queerness. It took a lot of soul searching and re-learning what is accepted in my community and what I accept myself. Because of my identity it probably took me longer to be where I am than most people. But I also think that my journey has helped be more analytical about certain situations I find myself in.

Have you ever been in love?

No. I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate of me. I’m sure it’s just around the corner. I think I’ve been socialized to expect a partner to come and then a family to be made after that serendipitous meeting. I’ve since realized that relationships are much harder than that. These expectations are not so easily achieved and I’m not sure these outcomes are what I want in life. I am still ready to meet that first person that I would fall in love with. I bet it’ll be as amazing and as frightening as others have been telling me.

C Mandler and Kyle, Bard College

What does your happily ever after look like?

Feeling like I have changed the lives of the people around me for the better.

What does love look like and feel like in your life right now?

Love is the way my partner holds my hand when there are too many people around me and I am scared. Love is my dog licking my face even though his breath smells really bad. Love is calling my mom on the anniversary of my grandma’s death and knowing before speaking that we’re both thinking of her. Love is the head of my upper school making sure that I didn’t drop out of high school when I was sixteen. Love is all the support I get every single day from my amazing family—both blood and chosen—of friends, mentors, and educators who strive constantly to make sure I feel seen, heard, and safe.

Adrian Vega, Stanford University

Have you ever been in love?

I've absolutely been in love I just haven’t always felt comfortable owning that love and calling it love. But love is something crucial to my mental health. Without the love of my friends, family, and boyfriend I wouldn’t be the activist or the person I am today. So yeah, I’m 100% head over heels in love right now.

What does the media get wrong about people like you?

Most of the time when I see a gay Latinx man in the English media, he is often a papi chulo, “exotic”, wearing tight floral shirts, and with a heavy accent and lisp, think the pool boy in Legally Blonde. And when I see gay men in Spanish media, they’re secondary characters existing to further a straight character’s narrative or to be the butt of a joke. Latinx gay men are only treated as peripheral, as caricatures and punchlines by media and that makes it difficult to exist as a gay Latinx man. We need to pressure the media to start writing Latinx stories, to write nuanced Latinx stories, and to write nuanced Latinx stories with queer and trans Latinx characters (ideally played by queer and trans Latinx actors).

Danni Inman, St. John’s University

When did you first become an activist? Why did you become an activist?

I first became an activist when I was in high school, and my best friend at the time decided she wanted to start a GSA at our high school and asked me to help. I realized that I wanted to be there for people so they wouldn’t go through the bullying and difficulties I went through, and if they did, they wouldn’t have to face it alone. I wanted to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

How has your identity influenced your activism and visa versa?

My identity has influenced my activism by making me unafraid to bust through walls. I’ve noticed as a petite girl, with a young face and brown skin, when I’m talking I’ll likely be taken as a joke, no matter the passion in my words. So more often than not, I’ll have to do things for myself. I have to prove I’m a force to be reckoned with. So I’ll do them. And I’ll move mountains. Being doubted and underestimated made me a better activist.

Aaron Giglio and Josh, CUNY Guttman and The Juilliard School

How has your identity influenced your activism and vice versa?

My identity has influenced my activism because my growing up as a closeted gay person on the autistic spectrum was unique with its own set of difficulties. The feeling of being constantly misunderstood and unable to speak up for myself remained constant during my childhood, especially due to issues that I had with having a developmental disability, and not knowing that there were other people like me.

What does love look and feel like in your life right now?

In my life, love just feels like my significant other. He is the most amazing human being I have ever met, and I know in my heart that I would literally die for him and, as I say to him constantly, love him relentlessly.

Nicole Gemmiti and Michela, Berklee College of Music

What do you love most about being an activist?

My love of activism stems from the feeling in my heart when I know that I made a change in someone’s life for the better. When a younger student in my high school said our group helped them gain the courage and security to come out as transgender; when students in my college tell me that club meetings are the highlight of their week; when organizations and individuals are proud of, and benefitting, from the work that I do and the projects in which I’m honored to take part - that’s the greatest reward of activism. Being a positive influence in your local community is the gateway to global change.

What does your happily ever after look like?

My happily ever after consists of me making the largest possible positive impact I can have on my community, specifically that of queer musicians, and the global community. I want to co-run an independent record label with my girlfriend, specifically focusing on supporting queer and LGBTQ+ identifying artists. Hopefully we can use that platform as a catalyst for change. If you’re not living life to leave a positive mark on following generations, what are you living for?

Malachi Robinson, Montclair State University

Have you ever been in love?

Define Love… LOL  I mean I’ve liked people and talk to a couple of people but I don’t think I’ve been in love. I have an idea on what I think love is and what it should feel like, but I’m waiting for that one to give me those “butterflies” everyone speaks of.

When did you first become an activist? Why did you become an activist?  

I don’t have a direct moment where I became a “activist.” I feel like I’ve always have seen things differently compared to my friends and family. When people around me would say things about the LGBTQ+ community, I always felt weird and tried to educate them about the community. I have always felt like helping others and having compassion in your heart is what makes the world go around.

Leah Juliett and Owen Logios, WCSU and UConn

Owen: What does love look like and feel like in your life right now?

In the literal sense, love looks bald, tattooed, and beautiful. But actually, love is so warm and kind. Love gave me the motivation to succeed professionally, and as an activist. Love brought me to new heights and opportunities to let my voice be heard. Love has shined a light on the beautiful parts of me that I never got to see in myself before I came out. Love reminded me that I don’t need to stress the small stuff. Love told me to set myself free of what has held me back, and to never look back.Love is valiant, inspiring, and smells like lavender. Love is all I’ve ever needed, and all I ever want.

LJ: What does your happily ever after look like?

My happily ever after is a fist in the air, triumph in my face, with one hand holding Owen while being sworn in as the first nonbinary United States Senator. Together, we will support one another while spending our lives advocating until everyone has a love as deeply fulfilling as ours.

Akila Prayaga, Cornell University

What does the media get wrong about people like you?

The media over-sexualizes queer women which has always been something that annoys me. But more importantly, the media likes to put queer women into these boxes and stereotypes. Queer women have so many different identities than the limited set of characteristics the media paints us to have. Being LGBTQ+ identifying is one of many identities that I have. I’m more than a stereotype.

What does love look like and feel like in your life right now?

 I’m in love with an amazing person and it feels incredible. Before I realized I was queer, I was never seriously into anybody that I went on dates with or even had supposed crushes on. I never understood the whole obsession about finding love which is commonly seen in the media. But after coming out and going through a few flings and dates, I was able to find someone serious. I found someone who is not only my girlfriend but my best friend. She makes my life brighter and happier.

Kali Villarosa, Skidmore College

When did you first become an activist? Why did you become an activist?

I like to think that I was born to be an activist. From early on my mothers would take me to LGBTQ rallies, protests and marches with them. I grew up surrounded by my mother's AIDS/HIV activism. I grew up wanting to fight for the rights of black and brown bodies, of all marginalized bodies.

What does your happily ever after look like?

This question makes me smile, but I'm also not quite sure how to go about answer it. In one sense, my happily ever after is a world where people of every identity are represented in every part of the world, from adequate media representation, political representation and social representation. My happily ever after is a world where I can walk down the street holding hands with whoever I'm attracted to without the fear of stigmatization, without anyone questioning myself or the person I am with. My happily ever after is a world where all oppressed bodies can finally be safe. Where there is no question about who I love, or who anyone loves, because love is just the norm.

Rowan Hepps Keeney, Barnard College

Have you ever been in love?

Yes. To me, being in love is more than just a romantic love and is necessary for finding joy and empathy in everything around me. It’s something I try to practice every day as often as I can.

What do you love most about being an activist?

I love the feeling of empowerment and pride that I get when fighting for something I truly believe in. There is an amazing feeling of community and love that accompanies making important change. I’ve never felt more love and connection for those around me than I do when working with others in activist spaces.

Clare Kenny is a Campaigns Manager at GLAAD. She leads GLAAD's Youth Engagement including the Campus Ambassador Program, Rising Stars Grants Program, and amp series. Clare is a graduate of Skidmore College.

 

Aaron Giglio is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a sophomore at CUNY Guttman Community College. He is passionate about fine art photography and photojournalism. Aaron is the photographer behind the College Sweethearts photo series.

the voice and vision of a new generation