Feb 21, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
James Baldwin has said that American history is "longer, larger, more various, more beautiful" than many people realize. In the celebration of Black History Month, last week’s invited speaker focused on the overlooked contributions of queer black people.
Janet Mock, an activist, author, and media personality, discussed the rewards, challenges, and implications of being black and trans as the featured speaker for Georgia Tech’s Fourth Annual Black History Month Lecture. The visit was co-sponsored by Institute Diversity, African American Student Union (AASU), and the LGBTQIA Resource Center.
“By bringing the achievements of queer black people to the forefront, we hope to honor these exceptional individuals and uncover histories that educate, inspire, and uplift,” said Adreanna Nattiel, graduate assistant in the LGBTQIA Resource Center.
Throughout her speech, Mock emphasized the importance of storytelling. “It gave me visibility and voice and allowed me to shift conversations such as living at the intersections of gender, race, and class, how restrictive gender expectations oppress us all, and the significance of media representation.”
She began with her own story of living in conflict as a young person to “express femininity in a culture that often demeans and devalues feminine people, is binary-prone, and mandates that if you are born with certain body parts, you are not allowed to express who you truly are.”
Mock said many black transgender women are struggling with interconnected issues of homelessness, joblessness, and lack of access to health care and education. “Our history as trans and queer people of color fighting against poverty, policing, brutality, hunger, racism, misogyny, and HIV/AIDS is deep,” she said. “Yet despite the tragedies, there is great resilience in our communities.”
“We must remember that telling our stories can be met with love, understanding, transcendence, and community, which has brought all of us here.”
Mock charged the audience to use its voice, story, privilege, and access to ignite change, and offered guidance “toward becoming more conscious partners in the struggle:”
- Realize allyship is not a label or identity but an action that requires self-education.
- Don’t be basic: Keep it intersectional.
- Remember when you donate your skills, time, and/or money, you are working with a group of people who are already working toward their own liberation.
- Recognize your privilege and use the access that it has given you to uplift marginalized voices.
As AASU Black History Chair Raianna Brown reflected, “I was moved by the vulnerability and realness of Janet Mock. At the end of the lecture, she opened up about the difficulties in being strong for your community and how becoming a symbol can sometimes be alienating. However, you can draw strength to keep going from those who came before us.”
“This lecture was one of the most inspirational events that I have seen at Georgia Tech,” said Archie Ervin, vice president for Institute Diversity. “It takes tremendous courage to share your own journey publicly, and the Georgia Tech community immediately embraced her story — rewards and challenges alike.”
To learn more about the Black History Month Lecture, visit www.diversity.gatech.edu. Members of the Georgia Tech community who are interested in learning more about transgender issues can register for Trans 101 trainings at www.lgbtqia.gatech.edu/trans-101.