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Photos -- St. Mary's Univ. OUTLaws event
Photography by Antonia Padilla, QSanAntonio.com, November 9, 2010
On November 8, OUTLaws, St. Mary's University gay law students club, held the Second Annual Diversity Symposium -- "This Gay American Life: The Current State of LGBT Equality," a panel discussion featuring leaders from the LGBT legal community.

St. Mary's law school roundtable addresses GLBT issues
QSanAntonio.com, October 3, 2009

Members of St. Mary’s University Law School's OUTlaws, a GLBT students club, welcomed five local attorneys to an October 1 roundtable discussion of issues that affect the gay community.

The attorneys who participated in the roundtable were Bill Goodman (wills and probate), Maria Salazar (family law), Denise Mejia (immigration law), Murray H. Van Eman (real estate law) and Richard Garcia, Jr., a criminal defense lawyer and candidate for Judge, County Court at Law 12.

About 30 St. Mary’s law students participated in the event, which was moderated by OUTlaws President Andy Olivo. Present also was Reynaldo A. Valencia, Associate Dean for Administration and Finance and Professor of Law who welcomed the attorneys and students to the gathering.

The topics covered in the discussion ran the whole gamut of GLBT issues. Bill Goodman went over the legal preparation needed by same sex couples in terms of wills, domestic partnerships, adoption of childern and owning property. Denise Mejia discussed the difficulties that same-sex couples experience when one of them is not a U.S citizen.

In discussing the needs of GLBT people within the judicial system, Richard Garcia told the story of a San Antonio judge who made a transgender woman go home and come back to court dressed as a man.

Maria Salazar says that she often gets cases in far South Texas where there are no GLBT lawyers necessitating the need for clients to come to San Antonio in order to get representation. Murray H. Van Eman emphasized the need for pre-nuptial agreements and sound partnership agreements for same-sex partners who own property together.

Jonathan Sellers, OUTlaws vice president told QSanAntonio that the group has 82 members including both gay and straight students. The club, formerly named Liberalis, has been a recognized student organization at St. Mary’s since the early 1990’s.

A long road to recognition for GSA at St. Mary’s University
By Jessica M. Ramirez, QSanAntonio, April 9, 2009

Editor’s Note: Jessica M. Rodriguez, President of Unity and Support, the new gay-straight alliance at St. Mary’s University chronicles the difficulties and extra requirements the group faced before it could become a recognized student organization. The University of the Incarnate Word, Our Lady of the Lake University, and St. Edwards University are private Catholic universities which also have gay-straight alliances.

For over a year-and-a-half, our gay-straight alliance, Unity and Support (US), struggled for acceptance and recognition at St. Mary’s University. This is a long time considering that other campus organizations become recognized student organizations (RSO) after only one semester. Restrictions are placed on US that we feel are unnecessary and prejudiced towards the gay community.

Our GSA always operates with St. Mary’s values which include education, support, and community involvement. We knew from the beginning we would need to cooperate with the administration. Yet the progress of the organization was hindered.

Legal Process
During, the first semester of activity, our paperwork had to go through the additional process of having our paperwork approved by the University President, Dr. Cotrell. This is not usual procedure, but it was explained to us that our organization would be controversial and would need further consideration.

Advertising
W can not put any images on flyers of anything that would imply relationships, through any signs of affection, (such as two hands holding) even if the genders are not specified. We are asked not to use the word gay or GLBT in our advertisements. We are restricted from using Facebook and other alternative networking sites that other organizations were free to use. We were told that is for fear that it might be misinterpreted for a dating service.

Constitution
The constitution had to be edited numerous times because the administration and our organization members could not agree on the syntax of the mission statement. The argument of the administration was that having the word GLBT would overwhelm the administration and board members. The members of US felt that if we did not include GLBT, then we would be compromising our purpose.

The final version of our organization's mission statement
The purpose of Unity and Support (US) is to provide a safe and supportive environment for gay and straight students, where we strive to promote a community of inclusiveness and equality for all. Unity and Support will continuously support and promote the values of St. Mary’s University.

Name Change
The original group was Pride Alliance. We were told that this name was too violent, and made it seem as though we were an alliance against the University.

Unity and Support as a counseling group
Unity and Support was granted as a trial RSO status that is supposed to function under the same rules as other organizations. However, administrators did not allow us to carry on activities such as volunteering, fundraisers, ask money from the student government, engage in community efforts with other RSO’s, and meet without supervision of a faculty member.

Even with a list of detailed events, we were advised to start our meetings as monitored by a faculty member from University Ministry or from the Counseling Center. We had always planned to supplement one of the counseling services available, but we had no intention of becoming one of their groups.

Current Status
We finally began to operate as an organization, but that staus is still pending the approval from the administration.

Why is Unity and Support needed?
At the very first meeting we had 50 students attend. At our most recent event, "Break the Silence," we had over 30 students attend, and at our Day of Silence, 70 students participated, though 100 students showed interest by pledging hours of silence.

At "Break the Silence," two St. Mary’s students said that they were afraid to come to St. Mary’s because of the fear that they wouldn’t be accepted by the private catholic community. Some students experience anxiety and fear which causes them to become less involved in other organizations at St. Mary’s. Everyone deserves a place on campus where they can feel protected and accepted.

My personal experience
I was never completely comfortable at St. Mary’s from my freshman year until my junior year because of my orientation and the fear that I would be judged if I were to tell people about it. Not until the end of my sophomore year was my orientation revealed by a student to other students without my knowledge.

The thing I had most feared happened. I felt as though my friends would abandon me and my peers wouldn’t see past my orientation.

This is why we need this group. It is difficult enough to go through discrimination alone, and now the administration which I thought would be wise enough to include a place for GLBT support in their community has made this support system, something that everyone has the right to have, almost impossible to establish.

Unity and Support members offer their thoughts

Stephen: During my first semester at St. Mary’s University, I had trouble connecting with other students. However, after finding out about Unity & Support, I was able to connect with people who were just like me.

Pete: I like this group because I feel comfortable with the people in it, and I’m free to be myself, and talk about whatever I want to without being judged. I have lots of fun here, and it makes me happy.

James: We need to be a recognized student organization and where else can the culture of the gay community be explored? In our education institution!

Sarah: It is hard enough being comfortable in my own skin. In this group I feel much better. This is a repeat of high school when my friend and I tried to start something like this and was continuously turned down. I don’t want to look forward to another disappointment; I want to look forward to a positive future here at St. Mary’s.

Chris: This is an organization I never expected to be established at the University! It is not an organization that helps reinforce so called stereotypes but rather help the rest of the St. Mary’s community recognize that everyone is human regardless of sexual orientation!

Erica: As a senior at St Mary’s University, I have had many experiences with different organizations on campus and I have always felt that they put a high esteem on community values. However, there is a part of their student community that is not being served. Since my freshman year, I have always felt there was a need for this organization but there was never anyone with the courage and conviction to do what needed to be done. And now there is and we are so close. My only hope is that it will be approved soon.