Planned Parenthood Discussion on LGBTQ History and Politics
Emily Yates, Salem Acuña, and Ted Lewis
Wednesday night, the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood’s Education Program held a conversation on LGBTQ History and Politics that tried to understand where the current communities issues intersected with historical situations that still affect us today.
Even though there was a storm thundering in the background, the discussion had a celebratory feel due to the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down DOMA and Prop 8. Ted Lewis, Associate Director of Common Ground for LGBTQ Campus Life at the University of Richmond, explained that while same-sex marriage is a major part of LGBTQ politics, the conversation would take a much broader approach.
Lewis and Salem Acuña, an organizer with Southerners on New Ground, a group specializing in LGBTQ organizing and social justice interpretation work in minority communities. began with introductions highlighting the diversity of the audience. There were people who experienced the Stonewall Riots firsthand, a few students of the University of Richmond who were new to LGBTQ politics, and some members of Act Up who helped those suffering from AIDS in the 1980s.
After introductions, Lewis and Acuña dove right into LGBTQ history by focusing on the Stonewall Riots. Lewis explained the restrictions members of the LGBTQ community faced in the 1960s, and identified how the Stonewall Inn was a place of freedom.
Acuña then invited the audience to close their eyes and put themselves in the moment, as he read a descriptive passage of the emotions felt when the police began to arrest patrons of Stonewall and the patrons fought back. Once he finished the passage, Acuña asked the audience, “What were [the members of Stonewall] fighting for”. There were a variety of answers, such as “freedom from persecution,” “equal rights” and even “the future generation”. Lewis pointed out that Stonewall became a defining moment, where LGBTQ members and LGBTQ supporters joined together to resist the discrimination of the law. The Stonewall Riots were also picked up by national media, bringing the struggles the LGBTQ population faced into the average American’s living room.
Next, Lewis asked, “What does the [LGBTQ community] have now?” Someone mentioned the power of technology. With internet access, a LGBTQ person in the most rural town can feel connected with the worldwide LGBTQ community. A few older members of the audience explained how laws used to prohibit people from “dressing as the other gender” or even “expressing interest in the same gender.”
LGBTQ interests, like equal workplace protections and partner benefits, have been endorsed nationally by companies such as Pepsi and GAP, and television shows like Modern Family feature same-sex couples in prime-time TV slots. Lewis made it clear that advancements have been made, but there is still work to be done.
Acuña then changed the focus from history to politics by introducing a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that identified the priorities of the LGBTQ community. The crowd added specific needs, such as “gender neutral bathrooms” to the list as well the general need for acceptance and equality. In conclusion, Acuña and Lewis identified the broad and narrow goals the LGBTQ community wishes to accomplish, and the steps needed to move towards those goals. Once the discussion was over, the crowd was able to walk around the room and read more historical facts about the LGBTQ movement.
In a short interview, Lewis spoke about the importance of having public discussions.
“For me, this is all about consciousness raising,” said Lewis. “And specifically trying to shift the conversation to a more intersectional approach.”
Lewis then explained some misconceptions of the LGBTQ community in Richmond.
“I’ve heard from some elders that there aren’t LGBTQ people of color in the city…or that trans people are hiding, and that’s simply not true,” said Lewis. “My hope is that we move towards an understanding that these people exist in our community, are out and proud and need to be listened to.”
Maya Earls and is a second-year journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She was born in Los Angeles, and moved to Richmond in 2000. Her first journalism experience was managing social media for the Rock4Life benefit concert.She enjoys exploring Richmond on her bike and finding good views of the river. Her favorite past-time is watching people dance in their cars from her apartment window.
“Come kick it with us!”July 14, 2016
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