October 07, 2021

Finding community

young alumni

By: Mykayla Capeles

 

For Cooper DeStefano, becoming part of the LGBTQ+ conversation was always something he wanted to be part of. 

After coming out in high school to his friends and family, he knew that in college he wanted to find a group that valued and supported him.

During his freshman year at the University of South Carolina, he found IRIS (Individuals Respecting Identities and Sexualities, which allowed him to learn more about gender and different identities that were present on campus. DeStefano ran for president and held the role for three semesters. During his time on the board, he rewrote the constitution with his board members to make it more accessible to everyone. He oversaw setting up the Birdcage Show, a drag show on campus that ended up being a huge success. Through the Birdcage Show, he met Shangela, an American drag queen, reality TV personality and actor. She came to campus to participate in the event, which attracted many students.

“There were some hiccups along the way to producing the Birdcage Show,” DeStefano said. “However, it allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, and I learned from my mistakes to do better next time.”

DeStefano was proud of the work he did at UofSC, and he was proud of the work UofSC did for his community. Throughout his time here, he found events that embraced his community, like community fairs, Pridechella, Birdcage Show, and guest speaker sessions.


After graduating in May 2019, he was offered a job at Accenture in Atlanta. Initially, he didn’t know anyone but wanted to stay connected to his community. Before COVID-19, DeStefano joined a Queer tennis team that plays on the weekends, went to bars to watch drag races with his friends and was getting used to the new city. Once the pandemic began, everything closed and he was left alone with no friends nearby. That’s when he started the idea of an online Drag Race draft that his friends could participate in, named after RuPaul's Drag Race. Although the pandemic made it impossible to be social, he was able to find an online community that supported him.

“A piece of advice I would give to new graduates would be to find your passion,” DeStefano said. “Once you use your degree in your first job, take time to find your hobby, and if you want to find a new job, find something that relates to your hobby that will ultimately bring you joy… and hopefully good money.”

DeStefano remains involved with IRIS today by supporting the team when they need assistance. IRIS helped him find the confidence he needed when he graduated from UofSC and values everyone in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, especially Caroline Wallace. He believes that for LGBTQ+ history month it’s important for everyone to learn the history. He says he celebrates every day by just living his life and being himself.

“We’ve always been here,” DeStefano said. “This is not a new thing, people are just now allowed to talk about it, and people in the community are more comfortable with being themselves and openly talking about it.”

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