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Personal is political for Professor Flores at Mills Pride kickoff

Mills Pride is in its third year.
Mills Pride is in its third year.

On Feb. 27, Professor Andrew Flores spoke at the third annual Mills Pride, which took place in the Mills Hall living room from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Flores is an assistant professor of political science at the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College and a visiting scholar at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, and was the keynote speaker for the Mills 2019 Pride event. Flores shared his personal experience of coming out and how that informed the trajectory of his professional political interests.

The event was organized by the Mills Pride Committee and sponsored by The Center for Leadership, Equity, and Excellence and the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty.

“I’m happy to speak about my LGBTQIA work within and outside of academia, as well as my own personal experience coming to my current social and professional location,” Flores said. “I‘m going to start with the former first, and share with you a little narrative; I think this is important because what I do as an academic is directly informed by my upbringing and my own realization that the personal is political.”

Flores comes from a working class background and grew up in Corona and later San Bernardino, California. His grandmother raised him so his parents could work.

“So let’s go back to 1985, Ronald Reagan was president, neoliberalism had been established as a dominant ideology undermining the social safety net and stigmatizing individuals who would ever rely on such public goods and services in racialized, gendered, and sexualized frames and the HIV/AIDS epidemic was devastating whole generations of people, and that’s the environment that I entered into,” Flores said.

He described his childhood neighborhood demographic as being rural, white and predominantly conservative, and how those dynamics correlated to his experience growing up.

“Social scientists who systematically study gay youth often find that they are at greater risk for bullying, which is an instance of what some scholars call enacted stigma. The multiple potentials for enacted stigma that queer youth face create unique physical and psychological stressors, this has been termed by some as minority stress,” Flores said. 

Flores went on to describe this social phenomena as the result of additional and pervasive stressors that affect one’s physical and mental wellbeing. As minority groups navigate their social environments for survival they develop coping mechanisms and strategies in order to reduce stigma in the greater community.

“One way [of coping] is to deny that one is gay or resist adopting the gay identity. I mention this because this was one of the strategies I took to survive,” Flores said. “My gender expression being more effeminate and perceived as gender non-conforming made me a target.”

Flores found that as he got older and entered high school, he was able to find community with others through joining groups such as the boys show choir, theater classes and creative writing, which provided a connection to people who embraced folks that were counter culture. He was empowered by his newfound community and as a result, felt comfortable being out to others at his school.

“It was a great time of self expression and self learning, I excelled in my studies and I began to become much more politically aware,” Flores said.

He began to draw a deeper connection to the politicization of his existence by way of the policies and conservative rhetoric espoused by George W. Bush, and the fact that homosexuality was still criminalized and that the Supreme Court still upheld that.

As Flores continued his studies in college, fueled by his interest in political science, he became driven to understand anti-gay bias, attitude formation and change and the social and political consequences of stigma.

When he applied to graduate school, his statement focused on California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex couples from the right to marry in 2008, and understanding American politics and political behavior at UC Riverside.

Flores took to the political research process, and by his second year he went to his first academic conference and presented his political research paper. It was there that he made long lasting connections in the field, as well as his future mentor and co-author Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College.

Although the intersection of LGBTQ+ studies and politics is a subject that Flores is passionate about, this did not mean that his pursuits were encouraged. He recounted that he was discouraged by his faculty because of the added difficulties it would produce on the job market.

“But I refused to listen, and part of the reason there is less research in this area [LGBTQ+ focused political science] is directly attributable to the marginalizing and silencing of the people who pursue or would pursue such efforts,” Flores said.

Flores noted that in last year’s convocation Professor Susan Stryker said that more than 1.5 million people in the United States over the age of 18 identify as trans. Flores said that the statistic she used came from a report that he published.

Flores has made it the focal point of research to fill in the gaps present in data and research on marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ+ community. He expressed gratitude to the Mills community for being present, and for choosing to be change makers in the world.

Mills student Mel Miguel, who was part of the Pride planning committee, was happy about the turnout for Flores’ keynote speech.

“I think I forget sometimes how strong the LGBTQ community is, especially at Mills, so hearing Flores not only talk about his life experience but his academic experience was really empowering,” Miguel said.

Mills student Leo Cuevas is a social justice advocate at The Center. He overlooks the LGBTQIA2S lounge and is in charge with programming events for LGBTQ+ community.

“For next year, if people want to help plan Mills Pride or are interested…reach out to The Center, because honestly it’s an amazing event. I feel like Mills people will enjoy it because it’s an event made by the students for the students,” Cuevas said.