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Former Marine, leading gay college activist
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-01-08

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Bradley Setter. Photo by Patrick McLennand


Bradley Setter was at the end of his rope. He had endured all he could while in the U.S. Marine Corps while trying to silence rumors that he was gay in 2010 during the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" era. He even faced death threats.

"I was so depressed that I was tying a noose to no longer feel the pain of my internal battles," Setter admitted. "I remember, I did a Google search to find the correct way to tie that noose."

But as fate had it, while researching a chosen suicide option, Setter spotted an ad that truly changed his life. It said: Never let go of the things you love so much for they will keep you alive.

"My thoughts came to my family and everything they have ever made me to be," Setter said. "One thing they never taught was quitting and letting go. As I laid there, crying, I made a promise to myself to be a positive inspiration for those in need."

A few months later, Setter was honorably discharged—and within a month, he came out to his mom, and then his entire family.

Setter told his mom that he is gay—or more specifically, gender non-conforming/queer, which is his chosen orientation—in an empty apartment in Avondale, Ariz., in 2011.

Within weeks, he came out to the world, and "I might as well went to the [tallest] building in Phoenix and screamed it [from] the roof."

Setter, 24, who now lives in suburban Westmont, is a strong, outspoken LGBT activist, crossing into many areas and leading many attacks, so to speak. He is the president of external relations for the Pride Alliance at College of DuPage, the school's gay-straight alliance ( GSA ). And this year alone, Setter and the Pride Alliance have been involved with numerous LGBT agendas, including Illinois Unites for Marriage phone banks; the March on Springfield; and the You've Got a Friend Movement, an anti-bullying panel.

"The Marine Corps was the best and worst of times," Setter said. "It created the motivation of helping people through love and how violence creates nothing but more violence. During my years of service, I traveled to Guam, Thailand, Africa, Malaysia, and Afghanistan. During my time in service, DADT was in effect so I could not come out and be queer. But [still], I told a person I confided in—and it spread, [thus, I] hid farther in the closet. I had to hide so far because I didn't want to be kicked out for being queer.

"The last six months were harder than anything I endured in my life."

After leaving the Corps, he landed in Phoenix, working at a gay bar.

Setter moved to Chicago in 2012 to attend College of DuPage.

"The objective of Pride Alliance is to provide an open and safe atmosphere in which members can discuss issues of sexuality and gender identification/expression in relation to themselves, family, friends, and society. The group places a focus on open discussions, group participation in political discussions, events, and conscientiously working to achieve full equality for individuals regardless of differences," Setter said.

"Pride Alliance became part of my life from the first time I saw a flyer hanging in the Health Science Building [on campus]. I remember going to the first meeting where I found many like minds, but the best part was the first time I found family in the LGBTQ community outside of the bar. It is when I found that place to be myself and to find myself. It helped, and continues to help me, talking to like-minded people, to find ways to define myself without society's eyes."

Setter has been dating Patrick McLennand for about a year, "and he really brings out my intellectual side. I have never opened up to anyone as much as I have with him, including my own family."

Setter is originally from suburban Detroit, where he lived until age 17 when he joined the Marine Corps.

"To me, activism isn't merely just an act. Activism is not just your voice being heard. Activism is not only a fundamental additive to bringing about change. Activism in itself is, change," Setter said. "To me, activism is looking for the darkness and bringing it to light; activism is liberation; activism is educating our society. I believe that activism is a human right and duty.

"I don't identify with being proud [of accomplishments] because that means 'having or showing a high or excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance.' I am of no more importance than the person standing to my left or right. Never has anything of great importance been done alone. So, all the events happening around me are of equal importance and no one of these events are more important than the other."

Still, Setter has been set in many. Just consider:

—HIV prevention through Pride Alliance: "We not only have educated ourselves, but also continue to go to classes to give HIV/AIDS presentations and show movies, such as Positive Youth, on how to survive a plague, supporting people living with HIV and reducing the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV."

—TRIBE is a community-based organization dedicated to empowering one's self and one another through educational workshops, volunteering and other community-building activities, as well as distribution of safe sex material and free HIV testing. Geared for gay men, age 25 and older, TRIBE is run by Chicago-based Project VIDA, Inc.

"TRIBE is a place where I can talk with gay men about the efforts to bringing equality across the board, and also discuss LGBTQ literature."

—March on Springfield: "Through Illinois Unites for Marriage I went around DuPage getting postcards signed, phone-banking weekly, and meeting with State Representatives in [the] district and in Springfield. Martin McAlpin, organizer at Illinois Unites for Marriage, brought me to his team [by] reaching out to the College of DuPage and asking for people to help his areas.

"At first, my plate was completely full with working on posting up posters throughout the DuPage area for the March on Springfield, TRIBE, Pride Alliance, and most importantly, school itself. In the end, once I heard his story of being a straight man fighting for his brother's rights, I knew to not make any more excuses and just do it."

—Gender-neutral bathrooms on campus is a topic that will be discussed in 2014, Setter said. "Now, [the focus] is about creating the context for gender identity/expression to be included in the school's non-discrimination policies, [and] explaining to the Board how important it is to add this community of people. I challenge the college to add these terms to the pre-existing policies and show all community colleges that the biggest community college in the nation is proactive.

"The main focus is showing that gender identity is the process of the mind which the individual person identifies as a man, genderqueer, or woman. Gender expression is how you express yourself as feminine, androgynous, or masculine. The reason these are so important is the fact that sex or sexual orientation simply are not these things."


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