When Ben Burbridge arrived at Berkeley-Haas in 1990, he was ready to start a new chapter in life as an out gay man. But until he met classmates Adrienne Torf and Garrett Hornsby, both MBA 92, he had a hard time finding a community.
“We were it, out of a class of 300,” said Burbridge, MBA 92, describing how the three got together to form a small club. “I realized how alone we were when we arrived here, and we didn’t want the subsequent classes to have the same experience that we did.”
Little did they know how their club would take off: 25 years later, [email protected] is a dynamic community of 380 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, as well as straight allies.
“I’d love to take the slightest amount of credit for it, but I can’t,” said Burbridge, speaking at a gathering to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary April 26. “The number of students involved today and their commitment is just amazing.”
[email protected] Co-president Lucas Vital, who helped organize the panel discussion and reception, said learning about the founders’ experiences was eye-opening for current students.
“Hearing their story and understanding how far we have come is a way to understand and value what we have today,” said Vital, MBA 18.
[email protected] keeps its community involved with events like the popular personal storytelling nights held in conjunction with Coming Out week, as well as through hosting speakers, panels, film nights, and even a pajama party. The group also maintains close ties with other UC Berkeley and outside MBA program affinity groups.
“I was stunned to find myself in a place where there were no lesbians,” she said.
When the small group—which also included Mike Brantjes, MBA 93—first started holding meetings, they had to take into account the concerns of closeted students who wanted to attend but were wary of getting leaflets for an LGBTQ club in their mailboxes. They instead let it be known they were posting notices on a particular bulletin board.
“If no one was looking, they could actually read it,” Torf joked.
For some current MBAs, the stories seemed close to archaic.
“Being LGBT in the workplace is almost an asset now,” said Jordan Pearson, MBA 17, and former co-president of [email protected]
Dan Sullivan, senior director for MBA academics, who helped the students establish the group back in 1992, says that makes the stories even more important.
“Some of these students here now were born in 1992,” he said. “People need to know this history.”
Still work to do
Alongside the celebratory mood, with laughter at anecdotes involving shoulder pads and visits to the White Horse bar, there was serious discussion of how transgender issues are shaping the workplace today. There was also acknowledgement that the world has a long way to go in tackling not only homophobia, but racism and xenophobia.
Vital, who is from Brazil, pointed out that the rest of the world is still not as accepting as the Bay Area. “Now everything is much easier, but I’m trying to break the Berkeley bubble,” he said.
But at least at Berkeley-Haas, the club has had real impact. Philip Chen, EWMBA 20, said in some ways [email protected] has changed the path of his life.
“This is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Haas,” he said.