QSA Speaker Series kicks off with local leaders, professionals

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The QSA’s (Queer Straight Alliance) first speaker in their new series was Rob DeCleene. The series kicked off on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The series of speakers takes on a different format than using one of the campus performance halls. Instead, those attending can expect a more intimate setting. For DeCleene’s visit, the students sat in a U-shape with him at the top so that it fostered a conversation.

“It’s more informal than a typical speaker series, more of a discussion,” QSA President Katelyn Firestein explained. “We wanted to be able to do a Q and A and have an opportunity to talk with [DeCleene] in that sense. We all sat together, we had him do a little intro for anyone who wasn’t familiar with who he is or what he does.”

DeCleene, executive director of Visit South Bend Mishawaka, spoke about his experiences helping gain interest in people visiting the area in some of the worst times from the Great Recession to what it has been like professionally, and as openly gay man.

Originally from the South Bend area, DeCleene spoke to those in attendance about his experience leaving the area for a job in Bloomington at their visitors’ bureau. A job opening for Executive Director being open at Visit South Bend Mishawaka brought him back to the area.

Shortly after accepting the job, South Bend was declared a “dying city” by Newsweek in 2011.

“He was really positive about his experience because he said that around that time Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] became mayor, and that helped turn things around,” Firestein said. “Everyone worked together to turn it around, and since he’s been there, he also did a part.”

DeCleene also touched on being raised Catholic in this area, and how he didn’t come out until after college.

“He knew he was safe to come out before he did. I think also his perception as coming out as an adult is different than when you’re a teenager or an adult,” said Firestein.

Firestein said that DeCleene said he admired that those in attendance knew who they were so early on in their lives.

Firestein is happy with how the first event in the series went.

“My whole point of this speaker series is that after college they’re [members of the LGBTQ community] still going to have opportunities and support and to see influential gay or trans people in the professional side of things,” Firestein said. “There is obviously the issue of workplace discrimination, it’s something a lot of us worry about at this stage–getting a job and seeing the implications we’re going to have.”

Firestein is also grateful for the support she has gotten from the Women’s and Gender Studies department, and especially April Lidinsky, who helped her put together the series.

“Everyone who I have reached out to has been very interested and very supportive, it’s been a really positive experience,” Firestein said.

The next speaker in the series will be Meghan Buell, founder and board president of TREES Inc., (Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services). The QSA is hosting her event on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in SAC 225. The event is free.

Buell “has been a leader in the transgender community locally, regionally and nationally. She has served on nonprofit boards, transgender advisory committees and is a regular collegiate guest lecturer, according to the listing on Titan Atlas.

The listing also indicates free food for attendees.


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