USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association garden party: Carla Ibarra, David Bohnett, Carol Folt, Megan van der Toorn and Monique Allard

Attendees (from left) Carla Ibarra, David Bohnett, Carol Folt, Megan van der Toorn and Monique Allard pose for a photo. (Photo/Ligia Chin)


Extraordinary Trojans celebrated by USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association

The USC LGBTQ+ Student Center is also honored at group’s 31st annual scholarship benefit.

April 10, 2024 By Greg Hernandez

Wearing the suggested “chic garden attire with a flair,” more than 200 guests gathered at The Maybourne Beverly Hills hotel on Saturday afternoon for the USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association’s inaugural Garden Affair, which served as the group’s 31st annual scholarship benefit.

The outdoor event, created to raise scholarship money for a new generation of LGBTQ+ Trojans, served as an opportunity to honor philanthropist and technology entrepreneur David Bohnett with the group’s Trailblazer Award, Keck School of Medicine of USC student Carla Ibarra as its Outstanding Scholar, and the USC LGBTQ+ Student Center with the Community Ally Award.

USC President Carol Folt praised USC Lambda’s success in connecting Trojan alumni with students for networking and mentoring opportunities during the past 31 years, as well as for awarding more than $500,000 in scholarships to more than 150 scholars who have demonstrated academic achievement and a strong commitment to the LGBTQ+ community.

“When I look at this group, I know you have certainly arrived,” Folt said. “But I’m especially grateful for all you do to help our students every year feel that they have arrived. What’s been achieved in 31 years is pretty incredible.”

USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association: Garden party
The garden party format is new for the association, which hopes to make it a tradition. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

Folt pointed out that “the work continues” with battles over equity and inclusion continuing around the country, including more than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills or laws proposed or advancing through various state legislatures and local governments. She also lamented efforts to ban LGBTQ+ books.

“I have a hard time believing it’s happening here in 2024,” Folt said. “So, we continue to fight this all the time.”

Advocating against all oppression

A member of the USC Board of Trustees, Bohnett has a long history of community-building and activism. A 1978 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business, Bohnett went on to become founder of GeoCities and is currently chair of the David Bohnett Foundation, which has provided nearly $130 million in gifts, state-of-the-art technology and technical support to hundreds of organizations and institutions.

“David’s values were really rooted in building community and in education, and he’s followed those paths throughout his life,” Folt said in presenting the Trailblazer Award to Bohnett. “Early on, he saw the power of the LGBTQ+ community and he knew the importance of love and being loved. He has extended that to all of us thousands of times over.”

Bohnett launched his foundation after the death of his partner Rand Schrader, who was the first openly gay prosecutor in Los Angeles and one of the first openly gay judges in the country when he was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. Among Bohnett’s major gifts are the David Bohnett CyberCenters, located at more than 60 LGBTQ+ centers nationwide, and the USC Bohnett Residential College at USC Village.

“The realization dawned on me that in order to succeed in my own quest for full equality for lesbians and gay men, I had to stand against oppression targeted against any group or individual,” Bohnett said in his acceptance speech. “That’s when my trailblazing really began.”

Bohnett feels he has a responsibility to stand up for the rights of all people to live up to their full potential.

“Every act of standing up and speaking out, no matter how small it seems, contributes to the broader struggle against oppression,” he said. “We are all part of this great Trojan Family, the hallmark of which is the support for each other and our commitment to the Trojan ideal of responsible global citizenship.”

Making her dreams come true

Outstanding Scholar recipient Ibarra is not only a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at the Keck School of Medicine of USC; she’s also a transgender rights activist and the current and inaugural LGBTQIA+ liaison for the Los Angeles Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department.

USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association garden party: Carla Ibarra
Keck School of Medicine of USC student Carla Ibarra, named Outstanding Scholar, accepts her honor. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

In 2012, Ibarra openly embraced being transgender and began her transition. Born and raised in the Philippines, she immigrated to the United States in 2018 with dreams of pursuing higher education and finding a community that would embrace her most authentic self.

“I grew up in a loveless home in a time when to be openly queer back in the Philippines could mean a matter of life and death,” Ibarra said in her speech. “I was taught early on that my worth would only be measured by how much of myself I would be willing to hide for the comfort and opinion of others.”

While she displayed resilience and has been able to make many of her dreams come true, Ibarra made it clear that it has not been easy to be “a survivor of so many things in my life.” She reminded attendees that the already vulnerable transgender community is facing more discrimination and threats of violence than ever before.

“Keep giving us our flowers while we are still here,” Ibarra said. “Continue sharing our anger and stand with us against injustice. Keep investing in us.”

Place of comfort and joy

The USC LGBTQ+ Student Center doesn’t celebrate its 20th anniversary until next year, but USC Lambda decided to get the celebration started early by presenting the center with its 2024 Community Ally Award.

Students have been increasingly comfortable in coming out to themselves and others in growing numbers in recent years, LGBTQ+ Student Center Director Megan van der Toornsaid.

The center’s programs and resources provide support and a sense of belonging for LGBTQ+ undergraduate and graduate students. Center programming includes weekly meetings such as “Beyond the Binary,” “Queer Book Club,” graduate student mixers and leadership development.

USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association garden party: Carla Ibarra
LGBTQ+ Student Center Director Megan van der Toorn discusses the center’s work. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

Pointing out that some students have been disowned by their families or lost financial support after coming out, van der Toorn said alumni assistance is even more critical in helping “our students survive and thrive while they’re here.”

“Our students are extraordinary folks who come to us from all parts of the globe,” van der Toorn said. “They’re going to go out and change the world in such wonderful, positive, fantastic ways.”

Vice President for Student Life Monique S. Allard joined van der Toorn on the outdoor stage to accept the award, describing the center as “a space of joy.”

“It feels awesome and incredible to [be] part of a university that honors and affirms LGBTQ+ students with a dedicated student center, with residence floors, and so many more dedicated supports and resources for this vibrant and sometimes vulnerable community,” Allard said.

Extraordinary Trojans celebrated by USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association: The next 30 years

A group of USC students launched USC Lambda as a grassroots organization 31 years ago during a time when it was especially challenging for LGBTQ+ people to live openly and proudly. During the event, the group announced its goal of building a $1 million scholarship endowment by 2026. A more immediate goal this year is to raise $250,000 by the end of LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June.

“With 20% of USC students identifying as LGBTQ+, we must commit to ensuring that they always have a place of support and belonging at USC so that they can thrive personally and professionally,” said Erica Hartman, president of USC Lambda’s board of directors. “They are the future leaders, the innovators, the advocates and the educators of tomorrow, who will make a positive and indelible impact if we support them today.”

The garden party, with its white tablecloths and floral decor, is new for the alumni group, which celebrated its milestone 30th anniversary last year with a rooftop gala at the Grammy Museum. USC Lambda Executive Director Brandon Kyle said the garden party format is expected to become a tradition and a key fundraising event.

“I extend my deepest appreciation to our generous donors, whose commitment plants the seeds of future triumphs,” Kyle said. “Together, may we give them a heartfelt gratitude for leading the way toward a world where every student flourishes.”