GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Morganne Schafle, 20, of Sicklerville, wants to be a school counselor and chose Stockton University because she loves the rural atmosphere.

“I walk past Lake Fred every morning,” she said.

As president of the university’s Pride Alliance she also appreciates the acceptance she feels on campus as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning — or LGBTQ+ — community.

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“We have a great community here,” she said of Stockton, where about 50 people came out Monday to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month with the raising of a rainbow flag on campus.

The role of college is more than just provide academic instruction. For most students it is their first time living away from home, meeting new people, and hearing, if not always agreeing with, different viewpoints and lifestyles.

Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said Stockton has always embraced diversity and respect.

He recalled at the flag-raising that the first Gay Peoples Union on campus was approved by the Stockton Student Activity Board in 1975.

Student Laurel Hester, who formed the group, went on to a career in law enforcement in Ocean County and later became nationally known for her fight while battling cancer to allow her partner to get her pension benefits after she died in 2006.

“It took a heck of a lot of courage for her to come out in the 1970s,” Kesselman said. “She lost her battle with cancer, but won her legal battle.”

He also cited Stockton alumnus Kevin Cathcart, who became executive director of Lambda Legal, where he fought for LGBT rights.

“There is still work to be done by all of us,” Kesselman said.

Speaker Mayor Don Guardian said it is important today to address injustices to all people.

“There are others today we have to protect,” he said. “We were them, the people no one was sticking up for, no one was defending. It’s what we need to do.”

Stockton alumnus Mico Lucide, a former president and now the adviser of the Pride Alliance, said they must continue to celebrate the victories, but also recognize the battles such as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida.

“There is still bigotry, rejection and violence,” he said. “There is still family rejection and bathroom policies.”

He called the flag-raising a message that students are loved and accepted at Stockton. He said university Safe Zone workshops help raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and share how to address them.

At a reception after the flag raising, students said their goal is greater understanding. Some said they grew up with little understanding of why they were different and Stockton and the Pride Alliance have helped them find acceptance.

Lucide said Stockton is developing polices to address housing and use of pronouns that reflect a student’s identity, but each person should be accepted as an individual.

“Society is evolving,” he said. “But I would like everyone to have a common base of understanding.”

Josue Mass, 19, a sophomore from Camden, is comfortable enough to wear a “Soy Queer Latino(a)” T-shirt at the LGBTQ table in C-wing.

“I came out senior year in high school because I had a boyfriend and just said, ‘Let’s do it,’” he said. “No one had a problem in school, but I still have not told my grandmother. Your environment dictates how comfortable you are.”

He said growing up he had no concept of what being gay meant, so that even though he knew at a young age that he was different, it took him a long time to understand and come to terms with it. But he sees progress every year.

“Even the freshmen are more open,” he said.

Michelle Makar, 19, a sophomore from Woodbridge, is a “straight ally” of the Pride Alliance.

“I think it is more accepted here than in high school,” she said. “People are not so afraid to be themselves at college.”

She said she tries to spread the message that the Pride Alliance is for everyone.

“I think Mico’s speech was a call to action,” she said.

Makar is Schafle’s roommate. She said they became instant friends when they met over the summer.

“This college and community have taught me that I don’t need to be afraid,” Schafle said. “I love this school for accepting me. I want others who may be scared to know that it’s OK to be themselves.”

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