Spencer Whalen: Campus Pride Leaders in Action - Where Are They Now?

Spencer Whalen

  • Age: 23
  • Hometown: Bethesda, MD
  • Alma Mater: Occidental College
  • Alma Mater: Account Manager with Keller Benefit Services

Spencer participated in Camp Pride in 2010 and returned as a Pride Leader in 2012.  He has since represented Campus Pride in Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Bus Tour and National Photo Contest, at the Nike LGBT Sports Summit, and at the NGLTF Creating Change Conference.  Now, he works for Keller Benefit Services.  We asked Spencer to reflect on his experiences with Campus Pride and how they’ve affected his life and work since.  Below are his responses.

When did you first become involved with Campus Pride and what do you recall about your experience?

My first involvement with Campus Pride began during Camp Pride in summer of 2010. I still look back on my camp experience with incredible fondness and appreciation. Camp gave me the resources and support I was looking for during my early years of college as a gay male on my campus. I remember showing up to camp with an incredibly naïve and “know-it-all” type of personality. Camp showed me the importance of being humble, opening myself to new experiences and learning from others around me. 

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with Campus Pride.

One of the most meaningful experiences in my life occurred during my first time with CP during Camp Pride 2010. As I mentioned before, I showed up to camp with incredible naivety and arrogance. I also came to Camp Pride with an irrational sense that I somehow had the only true perspective on LGBTQ issues in the world. It didn’t take much for me to realize how wrong I was. For example, I hadn’t met an openly transgender person in my life until that week—yet, I still believed I was an expert on transgender issues before that time. My friends at camp showed me that it was okay to make mistakes and not knowing everything was okay, too.

My most humbling experience at camp happened when I was sitting next to another camper during a break between sessions. To pass the time I decided to start a conversation with her. Naturally, thinking I’m at “gay camp,” I asked her when she came out to her family—wrong question. First, it wasn’t “gay camp,” it was a leadership camp for college students. Secondly, I had no way to know the girl was even out to her family in the first place. Fortunately, the girl only smiled and told me that she hasn’t come out to her family yet because she’s straight. I sat there embarrassed and shocked…also trying to understand why a straight person would come to a camp supporting LGBTQ students. In my narrow-minded view, I didn’t believe anyone outside the LGBTQ community would care about our experiences. The girl went on to explain, however, that she was simply passionate about embracing diversity and promoting equality of all forms.

I remember being in shock as I realized that the LGBTQ aspect of Camp Pride was only a piece of a much larger picture. We were all at camp for the common objective of learning how to teach acceptance and understanding for all people, not just LGBTQ individuals. I think this lesson is one of the most important ones I have ever received. Albeit selfish, I never gave much attention to issues of inequality outside of my own identity. Camp taught me that equality is a universal objective, and it’s best obtained by communicating the acceptance and understanding of all people.

Describe what you are doing today with your professional life and how Campus Pride helped to prepare you?

Presently, I am working for an employee benefit consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. My company, Keller Benefit Services, has fully embraced me for who I am. Campus Pride helped prepare me for the working world by teaching me that although my identity might not always be respected by others, moments like those should always be treated as a learning opportunities for all persons involved. Campus Pride provided me with the perspective that a volatile response to someone opposed to my identity is not the most efficient approach to educating someone on the importance of acceptance. My presence as an openly gay male in the workplace alone shows coworkers and others that I am like everyone else and deserve to be treated equally. I believe that as the number of openly LGBTQ and ally individuals in the workplace continues to grow, so too will the acceptance and recognition of LGBTQ individuals. Of course, educating others about acceptance and understanding will continue to play an integral role in this growth.

How did Campus Pride impact you and your individual growth as a leader?

Campus Pride impacted my growth as a leader by teaching me that being “different” is what makes people unique. CP also showed me that differences should be embraced and celebrated. These lessons afforded me the confidence and ability to serve as a leader in many capacities throughout my post-Camp Pride life. After camp I pursued several leadership positions on my campuses (I transferred from Bucknell University to Occidental College): founder of club swimming at Bucknell, treasurer for the campus FLAG&BT at Bucknell, secretary for the QSA at Occidental, student caller for the Occidental alumni fund, and captain of the Occidental varsity men’s swimming and diving team.

What value do you feel Campus Pride brings to LGBTQ and Ally young adult leaders?

Campus Pride brings an invaluable learning experience to all LGBTQA young adult leaders looking to make a difference in their communities. Campus Pride prepares its leaders to defend what they believe while appreciating differences in perspectives of others. CP teaches leaders how to use the resources and support around them to spread the importance of embracing and understanding diversity. Campus Pride also recognizes that we live in a dynamic world that continually demands flexibility and willingness to learn. As such, CP instills a sense of urgency in its leaders to pursue all means of remaining current on all issues relevant to their positions as leaders. This discipline makes Campus Pride’s leaders the best they can be.

How does Campus Pride still provide enrichment to your life today and what you do professionally?

As mentioned, Campus Pride taught me the importance of remaining current on all issues relating to leadership within my community. I take every opportunity to attend leadership development seminars, LGBTQA conferences and community events. I also still rely on my incredible friends from camp to get the support and encouragement I sometimes need. Campus Pride has given me a lifelong supply of support and resources to obtain the success I dream of achieving.

What advice do you have for those involved in Campus Pride or for those who want to become more involved?

Keep it up! Just like coming out as LGBTQA, activism for equality is a process, not a destination. The world will always need people to be the voices of people unable to defend themselves. The work Campus Pride does empowers students be strong leaders and caring persons.

What knowledge, skills and resources do you use today in your professional life that you learned from Campus Pride?

I regularly attend any Campus Pride or community LGBTQA events—CP taught me the importance of always being involved. The change we want to see in the world continually needs to be demonstrated and reinforced. Campus Pride has given me the confidence and power I need to get through each day.

What’s next for you in your personal and, or professional goals?

At this point in my life I am trying to live each moment to its fullest. For me, the most important part of entering the working world is remembering how I got here. My experiences and support provided by family, friends, school and Campus Pride have all helped me achieve my current success. With that, I believe it is now my turn to give back as much as I can to the greater community. As a part of that initiative, I want to be sure to support future LGBTQ and ally generations as they grow to maturity because it is not an easy process to navigate alone.

Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.

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