Ric Chollar is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an adjunct professor of Women & Gender Studies, Integrative Studies, and Social Work. He also previously served as the Associate Director the LGBTQ+ Resources Center. During Pride Month, Chollar reflects on its history and his years of LGBTQ+ advocacy on campus.
1. Tell us about your history with George Mason University and your involvement with LGBTQ+ efforts and advocacy on campus.
My history with George Mason University began in 1987 when I was invited to develop and teach a Psychology course in Family & Interpersonal Violence. In these past 35+ years, I’ve taught as adjunct faculty with a number of departments, including Counseling and Education, Sociology, Social Work, Integrative Studies, and Women and Gender Studies (WGST). WGST has been my academic home base since 2006, when I taught my first course focusing on LGBTQ+ communities, Queer Studies (at that time the only LGBTQ+-themed course that Mason’s Women Studies offered).
Around 2000, I came to work with Mason’s University Life in two part-time roles – facilitating a Counseling Services support group for LGBTQ+ students we called Journeys of the Heart; and assisting a team to develop Mason’s Safe Zone program. That consultant role grew from a half-time to a full-time position, providing programs and services (and intentional community space) for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff. This eventually became LGBTQ+ Resources in the late 2000's.
2. What does Pride Month mean to you?
My first encounter with “Gay Pride” was in my early twenties growing up in Ohio. Like many of us who came out as Gay or Lesbian in the early 1970’s, I had believed and internalized the stigma from systems all around us. So, the possibility of “Pride” was a crucial antidote to the shame and self-hatred we had internalized. The message that I could be proud, rather than ashamed, of my sexuality & community probably saved my life. “Pride” was about empowerment – a rebellion, a fighting back, and a celebration.
Over the years, I’ve watched and experienced Pride events (from marches, parades, street festivals, dances, parties, political rallies…) evolve in response to the growing visibility and changing queer communities, to our gains and setbacks as we aspire toward fuller liberation. Pride organizers have faced challenges with staying true to Pride’s roots, which dates back to the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. As the years have gone by, Pride’s meaning and significance have shifted both for our communities and for each of our own personal lives.
I’m very proud of Mason’s LGBTQ+ communities’ continued advocacy pushing the institution to live up to its stated commitment to diversity and equity in so many important ways. From our first drag show held by students over 25 years ago (amidst fears and pushback), to our news-making moment when drag queen Reann Ballslee was voted 2009’s Homecoming Ms Mason, to our evolving Safe Zone program, Living Learning communities, Lavender Graduation, LGBTQ+ Studies minor, and so much more that the staff and students of the LGBTQ Resources Center have accomplished.
3. In what ways can Mason students advocate and/or show allyship to their LGBTQ+ peers not just during Pride Month, but year-round as well?
Year round, I’d love for allies to stand alongside us, to speak out and take action in any number of ways: speaking up with family and friends when homophobic and transphobic misinformation and remarks are made; checking in regularly with your queer and trans friends; continuing to educate yourselves about historical and current queer and trans issues; staying vigilant with eyes open to the many intersecting, interdependent groups being targeted; supporting queer authors, artists, performers, political leaders; donating (money, time, expertise, social media coverage) to local, state, national, and global queer organizations; and most importantly, remembering that hope, joy, self- and community-care can be liberating for all of us.
4. How can students learn more about Mason's LGBTQ+ resources?
To learn more about Mason’s LGBTQ+ Resources Center, visit lgbtq.gmu.edu, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call us at 703-993-2702. We are located in SUB 1, Suite 2200 and are also on Facebook and Instagram.
5. You teach as an adjunct faculty member, what do you find most rewarding about teaching?
I love trying to build a learning community each semester that is safe-enough, challenging-while-respectful-enough, for all of us to learn – not only the course material but also from each other’s knowledge & experiences. In a recent teacher training (non-Mason, non-academic) course I’ve just completed, we were advised that “we don’t teach anyone anything; we help them to discover something.” That’s helpful for me to keep in mind. Each class feels like a unique living entity, and I get to lead and encourage everyone who’s part of it to learn and grow – and I’m always learning from the students.
June 28, 2023