From Fort Ord to CSUMB: The Educational Journey of a Local Gay Black Man
March 7, 2022
By Steven Goings
The theme of this edition of Diverse Perspectives, “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Critical Reflections on Thriving in Higher Education” hits home for me personally. As a triple minority (African American male, gay, person with disabilities), mine is first a story of survival, and only eventually, a story of thriving through contributing to my communities of struggle. I have been asked to engage the question, “How has your educational experience been shaped by US society?”
First things first; my father was in the army and stationed at Ft. Ord when I was born in 1963. According to McKibben’s 2012 history of Seaside, Racial Beachhead, Fort Ord was the first base in the country to undergo complete integration following Truman’s 1948 Executive Order desegregating the military. We lived in military housing not far from what would later become the CSUMB campus. In 1975 my parents got divorced. My father dropped us off at my maternal grandmother’s place in Seaside where we lived at the Victory Temple church apartments. Not knowing what to do after high school, and having served as a Civil Air Patrol cadet, I was sworn into the Air Force in 1981 in their (six month) delayed entry program. In the interim, I joined the Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) drama department and came out as gay.
Deeply closeted at the time, I had lied to the military’s psychiatric screener and denied any same-sex attractions. By 1982, the armed forces enacted its first explicit ban on gays and lesbians stating, “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” Since WWII, only homosexual “conduct” was cause for dishonorable discharge, now it was same-sex orientation. I was in a bind. If I served and was found out, at best I would receive a less than honorable “blue” discharge for my orientation, and possibly a dishonorable discharge for having lied in the first place.
Having outgrown asthma attacks in high school, a strategic “relapse” helped me escape this no-win situation. If not for the ban on gays in the military, it is likely I would have served long enough to complete my college education for free in my 20s rather than my 40s with a mountain of student debt!
Seaside’s Black community in the 1980’s was dominated by the military and the church – two famously homophobic institutions. It was decidedly not an ideal place for coming-of-age gay Black men. I moved to the gay Mecca that is San Francisco in 1985 and returned to Seaside in 2002 when I was very ill with AIDS complications. Obviously, I pulled through. With the need for work mitigated by family and Social Security Disability Insurance due to my AIDS diagnosis, I was finally able to fulfill my life-long dream of going to college and I enrolled at the age of 40 at MPC and transferred to CSUMB in 2006 where I have been in one capacity or another ever since. I have also been welcomed back into the local Black community with open arms! Times do change.
Social identities such as race/ethnicity, gender/sexual orientation and disability status are not merely personality traits or cultural affiliations and inheritances; they are also socially constructed categories that profoundly shape their members by public policies that aid or limit access to resources such as jobs and education based on a predetermined – but constantly contested – hierarchy of social statuses assigned to those identities.
Steven Goings, LCSW, is a counselor and National Coalition Building Institute diversity trainer