Big Men and Women on Campus
As Michael Moore showed us recently when he joked that Jesus was gay during a speech at Georgetown, some of the most interesting public discourse is happening on college campuses. Some of those discussions are being led by LGBT speakers who make the rounds at America's colleges and universities trying to talk some sense with our nation's young people (and make a buck while at it). On the following pages, the most prominent LGBT campus speakers tell us about the messages they're trying to convey. Many of these folks showed up in Campus Pride's Top 25 LGBT Favorites, an annual ranking of the best campus speakers.
Robyn Ochs: "Professional Bisexual"
"I consider myself a 'professional bisexual,' meaning that I spend my days traveling around the U.S. — and sometimes beyond — speaking about bisexuality and other non-binary identities.
"I have programs on bisexual identity, on labels, on marriage equality, on being an ally, on self-care for activists. My favorite program is 'Beyond Binaries: Identity and the Sexuality Spectrum' in which we review how different researchers have tried to map the landscape of identity. Participants fill out one-page anonymous questionnaires, which are collected, shuffled, and re-distributed. Then, with each person in the room holding someone else's questionnaire and representing that person, we look at the data.
"I work with students as much to learn as to teach. One thing of which I am certain is that we are in a time of great cultural change. Change is not happening evenly — or in the same way — across this country, but it is happening. Much of what I learned growing up is no longer applicable, except as a history lesson. To be a good teacher, I have to listen, and meet people where they are. What I learn continually transforms and refocuses my work." More at RobynOchs.com.
Jamie Washington: The Veteran
"I started speaking on campus about LGBTQQ issues before we had all the letters. I was an undergraduate at Slippery Rock State College and did my first program as resident assistant in 1981. Since that time I have spent my professional career as a student affairs administrator, faculty member, minister, and consultant on diversity and social justice issues.
"While today's college students are much more familiar with LGBTQQ people, many still have very little understanding about sexuality and its fluid complexities. Thus, most of my talks will include — 'What do you know and how do you feel (self-assessment and reflection)'; 'Components of Sexuality (Understanding sexuality beyond the binary and the difference in behavior and orientation)'; 'What is homophobia and Heterosexism?'; 'What does heterosexual privilege look like?'; 'How to build supportive communities and relationships with LGBTQQ persons.'
"For more advanced session we might look at the following — 'Intersections of Race and Sexual Orientation'; 'LGBTQ issues and the Bible'; 'LGBTQ Spirituality'; 'LGBTQ healing internalized oppression and self hate'; 'Being an effective ally'; 'When Heterosexuals come out.'
"I spend time with LGBTQQ audiences and in that space it's more about how to build greater understanding and a supportive community. I also spend time with the general population and the focus there is about raising consciousness, sharing information, and inspiring action that will be more welcoming and accepting of the LGBTQQ population. The conversation is different today because it is not separate from other issues of oppression and justice. However, the same questions exist around cause, cure, bisexuality, and choice." More at washingtonconsultinggroup.net.
Kimberly Dark: Doing Her Duty
"So, l was on Campus Pride's last '25 best of the best list,' which includes speakers and performers. I'm actually both of those things at the same time. I think a lot of entertainment dumbs people down, when actually, a pleasurable entertainment experience can be thought-provoking, emotional, and funny all at once.
"This is what my shows and lectures work for: I use humor and intimacy to reveal the contours of privilege and oppression in our daily lives. Through storytelling and audience interaction, I help people talk about things they think they don't want to discuss — things like sexism, homophobia, racism, etc.
"There are a few messages I give to college audiences pretty consistently. First, never forget that you are creating the world, even as it creates you. Yes, we are born into a certain social context — a certain way of doing things, and times will change whether or not you participate. You have a duty to impart your brilliance — especially as a marginalized person. Second, media messages about queer people, women, people of color — any group that is under-represented — those messages will mess you up! There is so much pressure on us to conform. And that's not only stupid, it's dangerous." More at kimberlydark.com.
Kit Yan: Learn From Your Brother
"Much of my work centers around Asian-American queer and trans themes embedded in stories about chosen family, family and home, love, struggle, and everyday life. One my most recent pieces that I performed at the 2011 Campus Pride leadership camp was about my younger brother Edwin documenting the conversations we've had throughout the years about each other's lives. He has been a major support and valuable teacher to me during my transition and understanding of myself as a gendered person. He has constantly surprised me with his understanding of the fluidity of gender and sexuality. I'm also an immigrant born in China and then moved as a child with my family to Hawaii and I often write about that experience and the how that is a part of my life and queerness.
"I started as a public speaker during my years as a competitive slam poet in Boston beginning in 2002 where I would sneak into the bars to listen to poets talk about their lives with a raw emotion and confession and that really spoke to me so I began to perform, as well. That experience taught me that my voice and story have meaning and value and that I can explore my life on stage.
"Since the beginning of my career, I've always explored topics that are uncomfortable or hidden and those that bring me to their college campuses are looking for that kind of story. Sadly the voices of queer and trans people of color and many other identities outside of the white able bodied straight world aren't always viewed as valid, relatable, or universal, so I have always lived on the fringe. These days though, I have been invited to more 'mainstream' venues, campuses, and events that are queer and non-queer so it's been better, but I can't say that it's all rosy, as I do face many forms of obvious and subtle discrimination in making a living as an artist and speaker. People will never say to me that they do not care about the voices of queer and trans people of color, but when I notice that the sea of people being heard are white, non-trans, able bodied, and sometimes non-queer people speaking for us, it is an indication that there is still a long road ahead of us." More at kityanpoet.com.
Mara Keisling: Realistically Optimistic
"When I speak to college students, I most importantly try to convey the need to be deliberate and moral activists. By enthusiastically leveraging my experiences and a big pile of quirky fun, I try to get across how amazing it is that we (me and them) get to do our social justice work. Woven throughout my presentations is a realistically optimistic view of recent transgender and LGBT policy and public education successes. It is also deeply important to me to share how transgender people are impacted by racism and other kinds of marginalization.
"As a natural introvert and someone who was afraid of public speaking even in college, I am surprised and very honored that I am lucky enough to do quite a bit of college speaking now. My original requests for speaking came because of my title as founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and that still helps, but over time, most of the speaking requests NCTE gets come from people who have heard me speak at other campuses and events.
"I have really only been doing college speaking for the past five or so years... college audiences still ask incisive and relevant questions and really seem open to hearing an honest and unapologetically progressive social justice perspective. College students and young people have historically been ahead of the curve on issues of equality and justice, and are increasingly interested in hearing about transgender issues." More at NCTE.org.