Retired FIU employee Patrick J. Russell recently made a $1 million planned gift to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer and allied (LGBTQA) students. The money will help FIU’s Student Affairs Division provide educational and social programs, lectures, academic courses and leadership development. Russell spent 30 years at FIU as director of cooperative education, assistant dean of students and director of Broward programs before retiring in 2006.
Did you have any support growing up when being gay wasn’t widely accepted?
No. I did not even know the word “gay” until I was a teenager. I felt pretty alone and hoped to grow out of whatever “it” was. While in Catholic school, I remember having to list the reasons why homosexuality was a sin, which were later written on the blackboard. I cannot remember even one of those reasons now, but I remember feeling very stressed that day.
So, how did you handle growing up gay?
I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., in an Italian, blue collar neighborhood where I learned to act tough even if I definitely was not. Basically I learned at an early age to always be on guard and not to be “too gay” out of self-preservation. I didn’t experience much distress in South Florida, and FIU was a safe place for me. It was pretty much “don’t ask, don’t tell.” There have always been some pretty great gay people at FIU even if they were not “out” as such.
What’s one myth about being gay we should settle once and for all?
That one chooses to be gay! False, false, false.
Why is it important for a university to have LBGTQA programs?
The programming makes for visibility without shame. Pride is something the LBGTQA community always talks about, and I want that pride to show at FIU.
What is your vision for the LBGTQA community at FIU?
I want LGBTQA students everywhere to experience the same rights as everyone else—academic freedom and freedom of expression in a safe environment. I want them to feel secure in themselves, safe and, most of all, included. ♦