A Magazine from California State University, ChicoSpring 2016 Issue

Alumni in Activism

Photo of Christian Heyne

Three alums work to make the world a safer, more sensitive place

They are different ages and come from different places, but all point to Chico State as a spark for their actions toward change. Personal expereience is the common thread that drives their passion, as these three alums work to make the world a safer, more sensitive place.

Turning a violent tragedy into legislative action

Christian HeyneGrowing up, Christian Heyne (BA, Political Science, ’09) and his siblings never played with toy guns. In fact, he recalls his parents discouraging them from even making the shape with their fingers.

But like so many victims of gun violence, his family didn’t realize that there was a limit on what they could do to protect themselves.

“We didn’t know until it came knocking on our door,” Heyne says.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2005, Heyne’s parents were returning a boat to a longtime friend after a vacation when a man with a history of violence shot them three blocks from their Thousand Oaks home. Heyne’s father survived three gunshot wounds, but his mother and their friend—the intended target—were killed. Like so many victims, the surviving family members were left wounded and wondering: How did this happen?

Unraveling the answers to that question started for then-19-year-old Heyne as a way to make sense of his mother’s death, but in the decade since, it has bloomed into a career working to make all Americans safer from the threat of gun violence.

“This isn’t a normal battle where what hangs in the balance is zeroes and ones,” Heyne says. “What we’re talking about, what’s at stake, the cost of inaction on this issue is human lives. It’s brothers and sisters. It’s mothers.”

Now the legislative director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., Heyne’s journey began by watching the efforts of his father, Tim Heyne, as he took on the cause to strengthen gun laws locally. The elder Heyne started a Ventura County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and effectively lobbied for several local ordinances, including one that requires the reporting of lost and stolen handguns. 

The up-close view of local politics and a community college political science course led Christian Heyne to pursue his burgeoning interest in political systems at Chico State.

Once on campus, he found both the support and the freedom he needed to come into his own as an agent of change. 

In his senior year, Heyne started the first collegiate chapter of the Brady Campaign, through which he was able to raise awareness about gun violence with campus activities. The group lobbied in the state legislature for bills like AB 1471, which implemented microstamping technology as a crime-solving tool in California. He also worked for the University’s Community Legal Information Center (CLIC) as an intern and eventually a director. Heyne credits one of CLIC’s supervising attorneys, Professor Dane Cameron, for helping him hone in on the direction of his education by telling him he had a head for Constitutional law. 

“It was like a senior-level course and I was a sophomore at the time, but Dane took me aside and told me I should pursue it,” he recalls. “I’ll never forget that conversation.”

In the years since graduating, Heyne has plugged into the national movement against gun violence as an advocate at the federal level. His job now is focused on developing relationships with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass policy that aims to save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. 

He says the movement has come a long way in the more than 10 years since his mother’s death, particularly following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, which he says “shook the nation awake.” 

For his part, Heyne says the work has been rewarding.

“It’s been my way of honoring my mother,” he says. “I’d give everything to have one more conversation with her, or to hear her throaty laugh one more time, but all I can do is what I’m doing, and I’m going to keep on doing it as long as I have a voice to do something.”

Inspiring others to live and lead authentically

Kory MasenKory Masen (BS, Sociology and Multicultural and Gender Studies, ’16,) has a good relationship with other transgender men on campus, he says. There’s so much he can tell them that he wouldn’t have been able to five years ago, when he first arrived at Chico State. 

He walks them through all the resources available to them now—they can choose their preferred name on university documents, they can fill prescriptions for hormones on campus, and they can use facilities anywhere they want.

“It makes me tingle a little bit to think that everything we’ve done, all the forms of advocacy that we’ve done across campus in all these different areas, it’s working,” he says.

There has indeed been much progress achieved on issues of gender inclusiveness at Chico State during Masen’s educational career, and the timing’s no coincidence. 

Masen came to Chico in 2012 from Tijuana, Mexico, where he grew up. There, he says, he never knew anything about transgender identities. Kicked out of his home when he was 14 for being queer, it wasn’t until he was able to attend Chico State on financial aid that the trans piece of his identity began to become clear.

“I heard a speaker come in and talk about being trans and their trans identity and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this makes so much sense,’” he recalls. “The identity was already there; I just didn’t have the language or access to that type of information.” 

As Masen began to gain the tools in the classroom to interpret his experiences, he was also coming into his own as an activist, spearheading projects that have made him a leader on campus for marginalized student populations, especially trans people of color.

The issue of gender-inclusive bathrooms came to the forefront his sophomore year while he was interning with the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center. He felt unsafe using gender-specific restrooms in the Bell Memorial Union, and he shared his story with the student government but was rebuffed, repeatedly. Instead of dropping the subject, he decided to run for Associated Students vice president for facilities and services. 

With the support of his community and other underrepresented student groups, he won as a write-in candidate on a platform of inclusion and access. Within the first five months of his service, the BMU had gender-inclusive restrooms.

“All these things we’ve accomplished, it hasn’t been just one person,” Masen says. “It hasn’t just been me. It has been the support of a community—the fact that I had somebody telling me, ‘You could run.’ The fact that I had somebody supporting me financially. It takes a village.”

Upon graduating this May, Masen says he definitely hopes to continue being an advocate, perhaps at a national policy level, building off of lessons he learned as a congressional intern for Representative Alan Lowenthal in summer 2015. 

Before his internship, he had a misconception that working in Washington, D.C, was “a very institutional type of activism,” almost like selling out in comparison to his grassroots efforts at Chico State, he said. He learned, instead, that activism happens on a spectrum and it all matters.

“Being a person of color, being a transperson, being queer, and living authentically, that’s disrupting enough for me,” Masen says of his interactions with people, especially those who are cisgender, a term for those whose gender matches the biology they had at birth. 

“Being in those places where it’s mainly predominately cisgender, white, and straight men, just my presence is a disruption,” he said.

As a congressional intern, Masen led a team of three interns in gathering signatures and formatting letters on issues such as LGBTQ non-discrimination and human rights in Mexico. He also had the opportunity to meet people working on LGBTQ issues on a global scale such as Randy Berry, the state department’s first-ever special envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons. 

When not working, he volunteered with Casa Ruby, a transitional housing program that helps transgender and gender non-conforming homeless people get off the streets, and with the National Center for Transgender Equality, doing phone outreach to communities in Puerto Rico.

He says that now he’s optimistic about the future, which wouldn’t have been true were it not for his time at Chico State and the support of campus mentors.

“You gotta understand, I came from a place where I was homeless, I was poor, I didn’t know what the next step would be,” he says. “Chico State just has been everything for me for the last five years.”

One mother’s quest to protect all California children

Heidi HannamanIn her 18 years working in the California Legislature, Heidi Hannaman (BA, Communications and Political Science, ’98,) has seen her share of bills signed into law.

“When that happens, we usually do a little happy dance in the office when we get the call, and move on,” she says.

But with Senate Bill 1266, known as the EpiPen Bill, it was different. She cried. Twice. First, when she got the news it had been approved by the governor, and again the first time she heard it had played a role in saving a life.

SB 1266, which went into effect in January 2015, requires K–12 public schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) and train at least one staff member to use them in case a student goes into anaphylactic shock—a severe allergic reaction that Hannaman knows all too well. 

Some years earlier, the Hannamans had given their 1-year-old son, Hudson, a peanut butter sandwich. To their great shock, he “blew up like a balloon,” vomited profusely, and had trouble breathing, thus beginning their journey to keep him, and ultimately his younger sister, Savannah, safe from peanuts and tree nuts.

As a legislative aide, Hannaman helps elected officials carry out their priorities, and pitching bills based on her own ideas and research is one way (the most fun way, she says) that can happen. As the parent of a child with food allergies, she was personally attuned to the latest news on the subject, which put her in a unique position to pitch the EpiPen bill to her boss, state Senator Bob Huff, when the timing was right.

Huff, who Hannaman calls “the real hero,” agreed with the cause and encouraged her to pursue it.

Procedurally speaking, the bill proved challenging. It had to be heard in three different policy committees, and it faced opposition from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, both “groups to be reckoned with in Sacramento.”

In retrospect, Hannaman says it was a professor at Chico State, George Wright, who prepared her to hold strong to her convictions.

“He was controversial, at least in my eyes, in his lectures, and I agreed with nothing he said,” she recalls. “But he ended up motivating an inner fire in me to fight for things I believed in.”

And in the case of SB 1266, motivation was easy to find, because she was fighting to save the lives of children like her own, for whom even a small touch of an allergen could mean death.

She says it was some of the most difficult work she has ever done, but not because of the process or even the opposition, but rather because of the sense of responsibility she ended up feeling for the food allergy community. 

“I didn’t realize the personal obligation I would end up feeling about getting this bill through,” she says. “Thousands of people reached out to our office about the legislation. They were so hopeful that someone in the Legislature cared. I couldn’t let them down.” 

In the last year since it’s been law, the bill has made a difference, especially for children with allergies that haven’t been diagnosed. Hannaman recalls a story she heard from a San Marcos Unified School District school nurse. A student with no known allergies came into the nurse’s office feeling unwell and then quickly started “crashing.” When the student started having difficulty swallowing water, the trained nurse administered the stock epinephrine and called 911.

“It’s saving real lives—someone’s child,” Hannaman says. “It is amazing to hear, and I am grateful to have been a small part of the process.”

About the author
Kacey Gardner (Attended 2009-14, Journalism) is the social media and web coordinator for North State Public Radio and also works as a freelance writer and editor based in Chico.