Professor, author fosters inclusivity with LGBTQ activism
Associate professor of English, feminist, political activist and LGBT advocate Maria C. Gonzalez has been breaking barriers since the start of her career.
When Gonzalez steps foot in a new classroom each semester, she welcomes her students with the same phrase so they have an understanding of who she is.
“I am a Marxist, feminist and queer theorist,” Gonzalez said. “That is the way I look at the world. Everyone is welcome and welcome to get out of my class (if you do not agree).”
‘A great teacher’
In college, Gonzalez first wanted to be a lawyer, until she majored in English and got her master’s degree. When she went looking for doctorate programs in Texas, no university offered her support except for Ohio State University, which was looking to recruit minorities.
The doors then opened.
“My dissertation with which I graduated in 1991 was the first dissertation in the English department at Ohio State University that was not on a canonized author in literature, which included white women authors or an African-American author,” Gonzalez said.
Also in 1991, Gonzalez became part of the UH faculty and rewrote her dissertation, which would become her first book called “Contemporary Mexican-American Women Novelists: Toward A Feminist Identity.”
The book gave her academic tenure at UH and is a requirement for Gonzalez’s Introduction to Literary Studies class.
Gonzalez is currently working on her second book, in which she intends to portray how Chicano writers change Mexican-American literature. She is also co-editing a project on activism, poetry and art with another faculty member.
English literature and Chinese studies junior Mymy Tam said that Gonzalez’s personal stories in class make her an uplifting professor — especially because she is a queer theorist and feminist.
“She is a great teacher,” Tam said. “A lot of her work seems pointless at first, but in the long term it does make sense. You kind of have to write about almost anything if you want to be an English major.”
Gonzalez said that she shared with her colleagues her sexual orientation when she first came to UH, and they took it well. She was among the individuals celebrating the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.
However, Gonzalez didn’t have it easy growing up in El Paso.
“Being gay was one of the worst things you could be,” Gonzalez told NBC News in June 2015. “And I never, ever thought I would see something like marriage equality in my lifetime.”
Gonzalez has a long history of political activism and advocacy for the LGBTQ community.
In 1999, she worked in Annise Parker’s campaign for mayor. From 2005 to 2006, Gonzalez was the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
“I try to get people who will not make laws against (LGBT community) elected,” Gonzalez said.
On campus, she is part of the Faculty Senate and has served as director of Upper Division studies in the English department.
Gonzalez was also named Outstanding Professor by the campus’ International English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, and has served as director of graduate studies.
Furthermore, Gonzalez, together with the Dean of the Graduate College of Social Work Alan Dettlaff, was selected by Mayor Sylvester Turner to serve on the LGBT Advisory Board. The board’s purpose is to be the intermediary between the mayor’s office and the LGBT community.
“It makes me super happy that UH has opened and is a welcoming university to LGBT students,” said alumnus Anthony Tello, who is an LGBT supporter. “And I think in large part it is due to professors like Gonzalez and a lot of other people on campus who made all that stuff happen.”
Tello said that, besides having been the driving force behind the creation of the LGBT minor, Gonzalez added anti-discrimination language into the UH charter.
“Texas can be a tough state for the LGBT community,” Gonzalez said. “We still have a long way to go. I get students who come from all parts of Texas and say, ‘You are the first positive role model of an out person I’ve ever met.'”
Making UH more welcoming
In Gonzalez’s opinion, UH needs to create an environment that makes students feel they have a committed family backing them and cheering them up to accomplish their academic dreams.
“UH needs to feel more like everyone is committed to their success, to them being OK, to them graduating,” Gonzalez said. “Every student should feel like there is an army of people that want them to graduate. That’s what it needs.”
For this reason, she is uniting with student affairs, student housing, College of Education professors and LGBTQ Resource Center to create a project to connect on-campus residents with their professors and peers. The idea is for students to develop close relationships and feel supported.
Only two students are participating at the moment, but the project aims to gather more students.
“We have first-generation college students (whose) parents did not go to school,” Gonzalez said. “Just coming to UH is going to change their lives, but I want to show them the diversity out there.”