Changing the direction: LGBT Resource Center appoints young, but experienced director
D. Chase James Catalano scratched the peach fuzz on his head, likening himself to Fozzie Bear from The Muppets as he characterized his latest haircut.
Blond, short and tousled curls budding out in all directions, stomach protruding over his belt and a multicolored tie fixed tightly around his firmly-fitting shirt, the resemblance is uncanny.
If Fozzie Bear juggled being the director of one of the highest ranked queer resource centers in the nation and teaching an online class to a college more than 200 miles away while simultaneously completing his doctorate of education, the two would be one in the same.
Catalano replaced founder and former director Andrea Jaehnig as director of the Syracuse University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center on Aug. 1. The center will hold a student social tonight for students and LGBT Resource Center staff.
Aside from his duties as director, Catalano works on completing his doctorate in education and teaching his social diversity in education online course at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Admittedly, his plate is full, he said.
‘Careful time management and flexibility,’ he said with a chuckle.
Casual, friendly and with a confidence void of panache, as he said, he ‘passes.’
‘I look ‘normal,” he said. ‘I look like your typical white guy walking on campus.’
Catalano said he will have to learn when and where to let people in on his secret — he wasn’t born a man.
Starting over in a new community — a community he only visited once before interviewing for the director position, a community unaware of just what letter, or letters, in LGBTQQA he represents — Catalano said it will be a challenge choosing the time to be ‘out.’
Being a transgender person who ‘passes,’ he said, can create lead others to question his place as director of the center.
Getting acquainted and sharing his story – he had his operation in the fall of 2005 – with the campus and its officials is his first project. But Catalano has big plans in the works.
What’s in a name?
D. Chase James Catalano still remembers the day he met a mechanic at a Jiffy Lube in Hadley, Mass. Tuesday was discount day for oil changes. While the mechanic was working on his car, Catalano caught a glimpse of his nametag.
‘Chase — I like that name,’ he recalled saying to a friend.
‘He kind of looked like me,’ Catalano said. ‘My friend turned to me, nodded and said, ‘OK, I’ll call you Chase.”
The ‘D’ in front of his name stands for Dianne, Catalano’s name before he legally changed it to Chase James.
‘It’s a way to acknowledge that my parents named me and keep a part of my history with me,’ he said
Family matters to Catalano. So much so, that on his birthday, every October 27, Catalano sends his mother a card — celebrating her efforts in raising him.
‘She’s the one who did the work,’ he said. ‘I just kind of showed up.’
Catalano’s welcoming, warm and gratuitous personality is one of the reasons he received the job, said Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, associate vice president of Student Affairs.
‘I think all of us liked Chase’s interpersonal style,’ Kantrowitz said. ‘Chase can bring a fresh touch on issues transgender people face.’
At 32 years old, Catalano is one of a handful of young, new directors on campus. The idea was to bring someone in who would grow at SU and continue to build on the center’s success, Kantrowitz said.
’We were not looking to bring someone in to fix anything that’s broken, but to enhance the good work that’s been done,’ Kantrowitz said.
Getting down to business
He fills his day with meetings, workshops, emails and phone calls — multitasking through his life.
During Freshman Orientation week, Catalano sat at the LGBT Center table, handing out information about the center, signing people up for the listserv and working on center affairs, while teaching his course at the same time.
‘Having the Internet on your phone makes multitasking a whole lot easier,’ he said, holding up his ‘lifeline.’
On Catalano’s list of things to accomplish, making the center handicap accessible is near the top.
The center’s location and structure prompted discussion on making the center more accessible while Jaehnig was director. The project is something Catalano said he is aware of and means for important and heavily influential decisions to be made.
‘It is imperative that we make the LGBT Resource Center handicap accessible,’ said Jill Stromberg, a junior and staff member at the LGBT resource center.
Concerns over moving the center off campus trouble students like Stromberg, who appreciate the center’s ‘homey’ environment. But Stromberg argues that better visibility could be great for the center.
‘Where should a building like this be located? Should it be in a public area or offer more privacy? What other space is available? What finances are available? What’s the best opportunity for the center? These are questions Chase will have to answer,’ Kantrowitz said.
Catalano said he wants to provide a safe place for all people — not just LGBT community members, but also for persons dealing with issues of racism, classism, sexism and any other ‘-ism’ one might encounter.
Given his background in social justice, Catalano brings the opportunity to not just lead, but educate others in the realm of discrimination and social injustice.
‘Chase has a very well-developed pedagogy for helping others understand how oppression works,’ said Tiffany Steinwert, dean of Hendricks Chapel.
Catalano experienced harassment and oppression in his own life, adding to his repertoire another qualification to lead the center.
When in the hospital or at the airport, Catalano was time and again referred to as ‘it,’ he said.
Catalano was once accused of making a sexist remark to a woman during a discussion group. Having spent the majority of his life in a woman’s body, Catalano was caught off guard and had to step back and reevaluate his own perceptions.
‘It’s like I’m supposed to put on this performance, and no one taught me the steps,’ Catalano said of filling the role of a white man in, what he called, a predominately sexist culture.
Steinwert and Kantrowitz agree, however, that all of his past struggles, his extensive background in social justice and his concern for all people’s suffering all the more prepare him for the job.
Filling what he admits are the ‘enormous’ shoes Jaehnig left behind, Catalano’s staff awaits the new year and the chance to continue work at the center with him.
‘The resource center as it stands now is a shining example of excellence,’ said Stromberg. ‘Mr. Catalano will continue the fight that Ms. Jaehnig and so many others began here at Syracuse.’
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