The Queerer Side of Black History NOW, WHEN YOU WERE STARTING OUT AS A WRITER, YOU WERE BLACK, IMPOVERSIHED, HOMOSEXUAL. YOU MUST HAVE SAID TO YOURSELF, ‘GEE, HOW DISADVANTEGED CAN I GET?’ NO, I THOUGHT I HIT THE JACKPOT.
February is Black History Month—a month dedicated to promoting awareness and celebration of Black culture and contribution within the United States’ history. According to the Library of Congress, the first version of Black History Month was actually one week in 1926, when Dr. Carter Woodson, historian, author, and founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) advocated for the event. He chose the week in February which included both Frederick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. It would take until 1976 for the week to be expanded to a full month by ASALH. This was also the year where President Ford issued the first Message on the Observance of Black History Month. In celebration of the centennial since the founding of ASALH, the 2015 Black History Month theme is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.” As we spend this month observing the historic and ongoing struggle for equal opportunity as well as paying tribute to the significant Black achievements throughout the decades, it is important to remember the powerful role that queer Black people have played, particularly when it comes to the written and spoken creative word. For instance, though Langston Hughes is often solely attached to the Harlem Renaissance through his Black-focused prose and poetry, it is important to note several of his unpublished love poems which spoke to a man named “Beauty,” as
well as Hughes’s multiple close relationships with men during the time period.[i] A more outspoken queer Black artist was the openly gay James Baldwin, who wrote and participated actively during the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the danger of being out during this time period, James Baldwin was not shy on analyzing his identity as a “Black, impoverished homosexual.” Also, although most big-name publishers would not publish a queer-oriented book, this did not stop Baldwin from writing Giovanni’s Room, a novel about a love affair between two white men. [ii] In terms of female writers, there was Octavia Butler, one of the most successful science-fiction writers, having won every major award in this particular field of literature, with sexuality being a prominent feature in several of her texts. It is also vital to note the large cannon of Black queer feminist writers, including (but certainly not limited to) Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Angela Davis. Audre Lorde was a Black lesbian feminist poet who emphasized the need for love, as well as recognizing and celebrating differences as opposed to diminishing them. She most notably wrote about racial and gender oppression, as well as sexuality, as she was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.”
Spotlight - Dr. Bettina Love Page 2
Grieving Leelah Alcorn’s Death Page 3
Dear Queer Advice - Body Image Issues Page 4
Continues on page 3 James Baldwin with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alex Hodge’s Activist Artwork Page 5
January 2015 Volume 2, Issue 4 lgbtcenter.uga.edu
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Staff Spotlight - Dr. Bettina Love
We interviewed Dr. Love, Professor in the Department of Educational Theory, about her journey to UGA and her academic and personal interests. ratios and exceptional test scores. Dr. Love “juggles these hats” as scholar, public servant, and community member because she sees them as interwoven “extensions of [her]self.” She will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural 2015 Connect Conference at UGA – learn more here. Q: Can you tell me a bit about how you got here to UGA and you’re current focus? A: I’m really a big fan of Atlanta. It has always been a place I have adored because of hip hop music, so when I was doing my PhD program I wanted to be somewhere that was the cusp of hip hop at the time (2004/2005). My first book is hip hop in Atlanta, and young girls. So being at UGA has been a great place to start my career because it allows me to do the research I want to do concerned about urban youth in the city of Atlanta, and that’s something I’m really interested in—how the city is being gentrified and race relations, all that plays into education. So I’m really concerned about inner-city youth, particularly in Atlanta. To learn more about Dr. Love, click here
Dr. Bettina Love is in her fourth year as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at UGA. Beyond being a faculty member, she is also extremely involved with the School Board of Kindezi, a charter school in Atlanta with low student-to-teacher
Q: You touched on the influenced of hip hop. Can you share more about how that love has motivated your life as an academic? A: So there’s two things that I love: hip hop and basketball. Before a scholar, I was a ballplayer. I went to college on a basketball scholarship. I’ve always enjoyed sports and basketball. My brother and father truly influenced my love for
this particular type of music. So I tell people all the time there were two competing sounds in my household: my brother playing hip hop, which was nothing but James Brown cuts, and my father playing James Brown. When I think about hip hop, all hip hop did in the early stage was sample James Brown. When I was about 14 years old, I really started to listen. The first artists to ever really impact me were Lauryn Hill, Outkast, and Nas. I started to listen to hip hop, and I started to understand what they were saying. I was hooked because I was at a time of my life when I was trying to understand so many things, and no school official, no teacher was explaining to me what was going on in my community. Why drugs were taking over, why my community was so segregated, why all the people I learned about in history books had nothing to do with me, didn’t look like me, didn’t come where I come from. Until KRS-One was telling me about black history, Nas was telling me about the community. So it was like I was having an informal education that was so important in helping me understandwho I am. Then, when I went to school on a basketball scholarship, I started recognizing all the limitations on my potential based on where I came and my race, so these experiences started to peel back the layers of who I was and develop a social justice lens. I went to University of Pittsburg and played ball there, and I graduated with my master’s within five years and then went into teaching. But I found it hard to make connection with my kids, until I realized our connection was hip hop, and I
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started bringing hip hop into the classroom. They would display to me their knowledge in ways that were culturally relevant to them; instead of writing an essay they would write a rap. And these experiences drew me out of the classroom and into a PhD program. I wanted to think about how I could recreate these experiences. So it’s no surprise that 10 years later I have an afterschool program at the Kindezi School in called Real Talk: Hip Hop Education and Social Justice. Q: What accomplishments are you particularly proud of? A: Beyond the awards I’ve gotten, I’m very proud that I have done the research that I’ve wanted to do, focused on social justice, on urban kids, something that highlights their brilliance, and speaking about that around the world. Q: How has the academy received your research? A: The academy has been really welcoming to my work, and I think it’s because it’s at a critical time. Folks are eager to think about all the different possibilities. People are wanting to push back, to think differently, folks are challenging each other and the individuals that make these policies and laws. My work isn’t isolated by any means, it’s part of a cadre of other works that are invested in what these kids can really do. Q: Given that Black History month is coming up, what would your advice be to student social
activists preoccupied with the affairs of this campus and the Athens/Atlanta community? A: There’s a big disconnect about what’s going on in the world that college students need to be aware of. We all should be talking about the brutality against and murders of black and brown bodies. We need to be talking about the intersectionality of all these struggles—that was what made King so well-regarded, because he united individuals. When he came out against the Vietnam War, he understood that an unjust war, poverty, segregation, are all fights for freedom. So there we have solidarity. As we have these holidays, these months, they’re not in time capsules. We need to think about these histories and how they’re repeating themselves and we’re gonna do about that. That should be our higher goal here. Especially individuals who are thinking about social justice, particularly in the queer community where there is a disconnect between queer issues and issues that are affecting black and brown folks. Q: Is there anything else you might want to add? A: Folks gotta to get involved. You know, get upset, get mad about something, and get involved.
by John Esteban
Grieving Leelah Alcorn’s Death
Continued from page 1 Alice Walker is a Black lesbian womanist who coined the term “womanism” and developed it as an epistemological theory. She is also known for authoring The Color Purple, a monumental novel despite early critics disapproving of lesbian characters within the novel. She also wrote In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, a collection of womanist prose. Angela Davis is most known for her involvement with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and ties to the Communist Party. She is also known for her work regarding the prison industrial complex and is credited with first using that particular phrase. Finally, as we celebrate Black History Month, we should pay attention to the soonto-be historical Black voices within our own generation, particularly those of the trans activists Laverne Cox and Janet Mock. Known in mainstream society as one of the actresses from Orange is the New Black, Cox has also used her fame in order to further the essential dialogue on trans and queer issues, including her groundbreaking interview with TIME magazine focused on the transgender rights movement. Janet Mock is another outspoken trans rights activist and feminist and author of the powerful memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More, which is available through the LGBT Resource Center’s library. Read on to meet a local voice for change, Dr. Bettina Love of the UGA College of Education, and learn how you can participate in Black History Month events here.
Leelah’s story is tragic, but it is not unique – we must work hard for trans equality. A month ago, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s blog was updated for the last time. In her final post–which she had programmed to update automatically–she wrote a suicide note. Her note blamed her parents and society for her death, and within hours of being posted, it was widely circulated over the internet. As a response, over the past month, there has been an outpouring of support and grief for Leelah. Artists online have drawn pictures of her and several petitions have been started to honor her last wishes. The amount of love and sorrow that has been shown for Leelah is the exact way that the loss of a young girl deserves to be commemorated. Her death was tragic and, like so many suicides, was entirely avoidable. However, in light of Black History Month, it seems appropriate to point out the disconnect that often occurs between the LGBTQA community and transgender people of color who take their own lives, or who are murdered. It is important to recognize that trans identity and experience cannot be divorced from race, and part of the reason Leelah has garnered so much sympathy must be attributed to her and her parents’ status as white Americans. In comparison, in her home state of Ohio, four transgender women of color have been murdered since March 2013 and none of their names have reached national news. In fact, even when searching for their names, it is difficult to find them, because Ohio’s bias laws do not classify anti-LGBT crimes as hate crimes. This means that any suicides of transgender women of color would not be classified as suicides due to identity. For this reason, the reported number of deaths of transgender women of color is chronically underreported. Likewise, the number of suicides of transgender women of color is virtually unreported. Leelah’s privilege does not make her any less of a victim of her parents’ abuse, of the cisnormative world we all live in, or of the despair
by Shayla Robinson and Ciera Durden
[i] For more on Langston Hughes, click here [ii] For more on Giovanni’s Room, click here Laverne Cox
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many transgender people feel when it seems that they may never be able to live authentically. Her last words remain as a call to action. “Fix society.” In order to begin to “fix” society’s treatment of trans women, we must prioritize trans women and color, who face the brunt of anti-LGBT violence. Do not just honor the trans women who have died–support the trans women
in your life. In the words of a trans rights activist and trans woman of color from Washington D.C., Mally H., “Don’t just take up the mantle for Leelah Alcorn. Take up the mantle for all trans girls who are abused or getting thrown out.”
by Hannah Middlebrooks
Leelah Alcorn posted this photo on Tumblr with this caption: “I don’t take many selfies because I hate how I look as a boy and I rarely get a chance to dress as a girl...”
Dear Queer Advice Column – Body Image Issues
The Hobbit, The Beard, and Chapstick provide a few tips for overcoming the negativity in our culture and increasing your self-worth. It’s hard to navigate self-image as a trans man. From mainstream culture you have a constant bombardment of everything you are not and a list of all the ways in which you do not meet the standards of masculinity—no beard, wrong body shape, wrong equipment under the hood, “men’s” clothes don’t fit, curves and softness where you should be sharp and macho. From within the trans man community you have an almost startlingly similar message—be a “bro”, be macho, adhere to all the gender roles and stereotypes that you can get your hands on, desire cis-ness, pass or be passed over by everyone. Most days, it feels like I’m just fighting against myself when in truth I’m struggling with unlearning all of these toxic ideas about my body and my worth. I don’t think these struggles will ever really go away; with time, we just get better at dealing with them. I don’t have all the answers to self-care and discovering self-worth. But there are things that have helped get to the place I’m at and it is my hope that some of these tips will help others. The Hobbit 1. Surround yourself with images of people who don’t fit the norm. I spend a large portion of my time in online spaces. Before I was conscious of the harmful systems at play, I didn’t make the connection between constantly seeing standard photo-shopped beauty and how terrible I felt about my own body. It was a turning point for me to see photos of other trans people where they were clearly regarded as beautiful and worthy of being captured in a photo. When I saw traits that I had being glorified in other people’s photos, it made it easier for me to love those parts of myself as well. 2. Celebrate other people’s bodies.
When I show compassion to other people, I become more compassionate towards myself. If I go through the day thinking about how awesome everyone looked, I end up going home and thinking that I looked pretty all right too. 3. Forgive yourself for hating yourself. Self-care is hard. Loving yourself is hard. We’re not perfect nor will we ever be. We are constantly surrounded by negative and toxic messages. It’s okay to mess up. The Beard Body image is something many queer and trans people struggle with, and it is often tied to our identities. In the dating world, many of us hear phrases that remind us of our marginalization: “white masculine only,” “are you a real woman?” and the like. People often use such “preferences” to justify racism, transphobia, ableism, and fatphobia. I have dated very different types of women, and have learned that combatting social pressures of what you should look like and who you should date is difficult. I like femmes; I like tomboys; I like studs. I just like women. When I have dated the more “butch” looking women, I have gotten very negative feedback. Girls that fall into the tomboy, or chapstick, category like myself are said to be too much like the butch girls, and it is often perceived as weird or even wrong when two butch girls date. I think it’s important for us to examine how normative standards influence our dating preferences and perceptions of others and ourselves in order to combat body shaming. Community support and openness are vital to self-love. For me, the LGBT Resource Center has been an invaluable support system, and building your support system is a major step towards body positivity.
The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute any professional advice. Reliance on information provided through this column is at the reader’s discretion.
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Events in February
Here are some awesome events going on next month. Sunday
BHM* Kickoff, 10am-2pm, Tate Plaza Mental Health Talk at 5:30pm, Tate 144
Alex Hodge and Activist Artwork
Alex, an art student at Lamar Dodd, is creating diverse work about diverse themes. Meet Alex Hodge (preferred pronouns: she/her). Alex is an up and coming commission artist at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at UGA and has been amassing attention and invigorating others with her unique artwork. Among those familiar with her work, she has gained a reputation for expressing themes that address feminist and social justice issues. For Alex, anywhere from colorful eye-grabbing landscapes to charcoal, sculpting and ceramics, she has a passion for taking on relevant themes and taking her art into new territories. This passion is rooted in her observation that not many art classes take on current social justice topics, and so she has taken her artwork on a journey that expresses feminist ideology, the oppression trans women face, body acceptance, and other topics around social justice.
One of Alex’s recent artworks include a sgraffito piece (above right) that alludes to the famous Three Graces art piece but that instead of presenting the standard thin cisgender body, her art displays a more realistic and inclusive spectrum of a women’s bodies that, according to Alex, clearly “goes against the standards of beauty.” She emphasizes that her goal is to make her art engaging, show appreciation for the woman’s body, and to present feminist ideas beautifully. Another of Alex’s art works includes a piece that gives light to the names of Black people who have died under much-doubted law enforcement practices (above left). Their names embroidered in red across the red, white, and blue colors of our nation’s flag, contrasting with what is meant to symbolize purity and innocence
(white), hardiness and valour (red), and vigilance, perseverance and justice (blue). Many can relate with the notion that social justice and feminist discussions can sometimes feel frustrating and sometimes become unconstructive. For Alex, art represents a form where she can work through the knowledge she has gained and present the most concise, beautiful analysis of Western society for others to learn from as well. Check out Alex’s art, buy one of her works, or commission an original piece! She is on Etsy, Facebook, and Tumblr. Message her at any one of these pages if you’re interested!
Lunch with Leaders at 12pm, Tate 482
Everyday Black History at 7pm, Tate Reception Hall
Safe Space Training from 1:30-5pm, Tate 325 Prism at 6pm, LGBTRC
Love: A Panel on Polyamorous Relationships from 6-8pm, MLC
Leadershape Deadline at 4pm
Queers Through the Years at 5:30pm, Tate 144
16 Did You Wake up Like This? at 5:30pm, Tate 144
Prism at 6pm, Safe Space LGBTRC Training from 8:30am12pm, Tate 325
*For complete information on Black History Month, follow the #BHMatUGA or click here.
T C E N C O NE N C E CON F E R 3 , 2 0 1 5 M A R C H 2A N D H A L L TAT E G R
by Jose Leandro
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The Normal Heart at 8pm, Tate Theatre
2 Cookies, Cards, and (Frog) Kisses at 5:30pm, Tate 144