Secret GLBTQ group founder, alum returns to campus for lecture
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 23:02
Miami University alumnus James Lopata (’86) began an underground support group for homosexual students in a time when he and other students felt they could not be openly gay. Thursday, Lopata will return to Miami to discuss his experiences.
Lopata is the editor-in-chief of Boston Spirit, an LGBT magazine in New England. The Rochester, N.Y. native has dabbled in a wide variety of career paths including off-Broadway, professional singing, new media marketing and digital consulting.
“For me, one of the hallmarks of my career so far is that I just follow what’s interesting and do what excites me,” Lopata said.
Lopata, who began as an interdisciplinary studies major at Miami, will speak with students about his college experiences, both in general and as a homosexual student who went through the process of coming out while at Miami.
The university Lopata will be returning to this week is quite different than it was when he was a student here almost 30 years ago. Today there are multiple LGBTQ student organizations on campus, as well as an established department dedicated to advising students, which is part of the Office of Diversity Affairs. In 1986, the only LGBTQ group on campus was a radical for the time activist group that disbanded after less than a year, according to Lopata.
During Lopata’s senior year, after talking in-depth with his head resident advisor, Lopata began the process of coming out to his friends. In the midst of a process he described as just plain scary, and despite being initially met with an uncomfortable reaction from his best friend, Lopata found an unlikely friendship with someone he never expected to.
Lopata’s friend Christine came out to him at the same time. At the time, the two had virtually nowhere on campus to turn for support. Together they decided to create something like a support group called Chameleon.
The group met in secret once a week in the basement of the counseling center and began with only Lopata and Christine.
Chameleon sparked the creation of many of the LGBT organizations on campus today.
Lopata returns to Miami in part because of an innate fascination with his Midwestern alma mater, in the hopes of spurring conversation and discussion among students.
“My hope is that [the students] get sort of a sense of perspective,” Demere Woolway, coordinator of GLBTQ services at Miami, said. “I think sometimes it’s easy for students to think, ‘oh it’s always been this way.’ And to just sort of look back and see how things have developed and how things have changed since he’s been on campus, and then to also recognize that we all have a place in this movement.”
Lopata said Initial reactions to his news of coming out, struggles with his faith and loneliness were all obstacles he had to overcome. But, in more ways than one, he said Miami proved to be incredibly helpful to him.
“The values that were instilled in me at Miami, those kind of values like the importance of relationships and family, have stuck with me, so that as I’ve gone on to work in some gay activism and then gay journalism, is to watch how many activist movements can flare up,” Lopata said. “And there’s a place and time for shouting and yelling and protesting, but there’s also a time and place for those kind of values that I feel were really impressed on me at my experience at Miami University.”
Lopata will be speaking with students 4 p.m. Thursday in Upham Hall, room 163.