The number 41 was once a homophobic slur. Now, thanks to the newly established organization Honor 41, the number refers to 41 exceptional individuals within the LGBT community. Vincent Vigil ME ’04, EdD ’05, director of the USC LGBT Resource Center, is lucky number seven.
The emergence of “41” as an offensive term dates back to 1901, when police in Mexico City arrested 41 men, some dressed as women, at a private party. Since then, calling people “41” in Spanish has been a derogatory way to label them as homosexual.
Alberto Mendoza wanted to put a new, positive spin on the number — to reclaim it as a label of respect. In March, he established Honor 41 to highlight prominent role models within the LGBT Latino community and increase visibility of LGBT people of color in the media.
“It was to take away the negative association with ‘41,’ to help heal people from that experience and — for those people who didn’t know anything about it — to provide a little education about that historical moment,” he said. “I wanted to demonstrate and celebrate 41 role models in our community as a response to that.”
Vigil was a prime candidate for the distinction. Nominated by anonymous peers, he earned the number seven spot among selected role models due to his outstanding work with the LGBT community at USC.
When Vigil came to USC as a graduate student at the USC Rossier School of Education in 2002, he noticed the lack of cohesion between LGBT organizations on campus. After completing in-depth research with the student population, and analyzing their needs and concerns, he successfully submitted a proposal to create an LGBT center. With the support of Student Affairs, Vigil became the new LGBT Resource Center’s founding director, a position he has held since 2005.
“When there was finally a home, that’s where we were able to work together and create a synergy and get participation to where it is now,” said Vigil, who also teaches at USC Rossier.
Indeed, the services available to LGBT students have expanded exponentially. By overseeing the Rainbow Floor residential community, peer-mentoring programs, social events and programming, the LGBT Resource Center provides students with support and leadership opportunities.
In addition to recognizing Vigil’s achievements within the USC community, Mendoza acknowledged the personal journey that Vigil took to become the leader he is today.
“Here was this young man who was raised by a single mother, who really used education as his ticket out,” Mendoza said. “Through his own inquisitive nature and his desire to bring about change, he proposed an idea and had it become a reality. That was a story worth sharing.”
Vigil is delighted and humbled that the organization has selected him, and he hopes that Honor 41’s honorees will inspire the next generation of LGBT leaders.
“It is very important that there are faces out there that are people of color and LGBT so that a lot of young people can see that there are leaders out there like them,” he said. “So I hope that I can help other people, just by being me.”