New LGBTQ+ academic award named for alumni leaders and awarded to accomplished graduating senior and digital animator Griffin Weber.
By Deborah Alvarez O’Neil
Photos by Matt Wright ’10
In the make-believe world of YouTube show Excellent Entities, the endearing little characters undertake some outrageous hijinks and more than a bit of troublemaking as they vie for 1 BAJILLION DOLLARS! There’s the time Moonstone confuses hydrofluoric acid for milk. Oops. And Broomer and TOL break into their friend Chalky’s house to unapologetically drink all his soda. Once during a paintball match, Feather rigs a scary contraption to hurl fellow competitors into space.
One thing that is not allowed: homophobia. In episode 7 of season 2 (dubbed Extraordinarily Excellent Entities), Chocolate Bar learns this the hard way when he makes a shocking declaration to the competitors: “You are all eliminated because you are gay!”
The characters appear crestfallen. Latte’s mouth falls open. Clay winces in pain. Chalky scratches his head, puzzled.
Then Chocolate Bar’s phone rings. The caller announces that Chocolate Bar is under arrest for discrimination and suspended from the show. Gummy Bear will be taking his place. And that’s that.
This lovable and spirited animated show with positive LGBTQ+ messages woven throughout boasts some 365,000 viewers and is the creation of Worcester State 2023 graduating senior Griffin Weber. An accomplished and self-taught digital animator and communications major, Weber is the first recipient of Worcester State’s new Negrón Cruz-Audet LGBTQ+ Academic Excellence Award, honoring an LGBTQ+ student with an outstanding academic record. Weber accepted the award in April and graduated summa cum laude in May.
“It means so much to me to be representing my community and to be awarded academically for a lot of hard work. I’ve put a lot of work into college at Worcester State,” Weber said. “I’ve been out and in the community since I was 11. Everyone who watches my show knows I will always stand up for my community. This award really ties into that. It celebrates the community.”
The award was established by Worcester State University Assistant Vice President of Assessment and Planning Sarah Strout and is named for two longtime LGBTQ+ rights advocates, Worcester State alumnus Leopoldo Negrón Cruz, MEd ’16, and Gloria Audet, a one-time Worcester State student.
Negrón Cruz moved to Worcester from Puerto Rico after graduating from college in 1983 and has been working at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center since 1986, now serving as the clinical supervisor of the center’s community health workers. As a pillar of Worcester’s public health community, Negrón Cruz has worked at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and the Latine LGBTQ+ community. He has developed, implemented, and advocated for HIV health education and prevention, testing, and support for more than 30 years. In 1989, he created Worcester’s Gay and Lesbian Latino Organization (GALLO), which helped bring people together.
“You are dealing with homophobia in one community and racism and discrimination in another,” Negrón Cruz said. “People were so isolated. We were very successful in our efforts. There were a good number of LGBTQ individuals we were able to bring together in community.”
Among his many other community and activist roles, Negrón Cruz also serves on the board of Worcester State’s Latino Education Institute (LEI). Still, he was surprised when he learned that his graduate school alma mater wanted to name an LGBTQ+ academic award for him.
“It’s a huge honor to lend my name for that award at a public institution,” he said. “When I went to college for my undergrad, this would not even have been a thought. Not only because I went to school in Puerto Rico, but even here in the US, it would not have been a consideration to have an award for an LGBTQ student. LGBTQ wouldn’t have even been mentioned at all. Regardless of who it is named after, it is worth celebrating an LGBTQ award. It’s amazing.”
The award grew out of Strout’s longtime work on the university’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. She took a leading role in ushering in policies that allow student records to reflect their pronouns and chosen names.
In 2021, Strout was heartened to see that the university’s efforts to make the campus a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ students were paying off. Worcester State earned high marks as one of the best colleges in the nation for support of LGBTQ+ students in 2021’s Campus Pride Index. One category the index looks for are academic awards and scholarships for LGBTQ+ students. Worcester State didn’t have any. So, Strout decided to create the award with a donation of $2,500. Her hope is the award will pave the way for the establishment of an endowed academic scholarship, which requires a donation of $25,000.
“The award is for an LGBTQ+ student who has an excellent academic record,” she said. “It’s not just they are active on campus. We’re recognizing that it’s difficult for LGBTQ+ students to do really well in school while managing the unique challenges related to their identity.”
For Weber, LGBTQ advocacy has come through his creative work. In the early days of his show, he said, YouTube wasn’t a particularly welcoming space. With time, he says, that has shifted. Now, he has a huge fan base of people who love to follow his characters on their adventures. By design, all of the characters on Extraordinarily Excellent Entities are LGBTQ.
“I’m making a statement,” Weber said. “There are no straight people. Chalky and Broomer are two guys in a relationship, and they hold hands. I celebrate that these two characters love each other. It’s always been important to me to push boundaries. I’m not going to tolerate intolerance.”