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A Closeted History: LGBTQ+ in the Movement

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Ryan Janek Wolowski/FLICKR

Jamie Biggs
   Staff Writer

            As a part of UNCG’s pride month, the university’s Office of Intercultural Engagement has been hosting a variety of events in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the month of April.

            On Wednesday, April 12, The Office of Intercultural Engagement partnered with the Women’s and Gender Studies department as well as the African American and African Diaspora Studies department to host a viewing of a film followed by a discussion panel in the School of Education building at 6:00 p.m.

            The event—“A Closeted History: LGBTQ+ in the Movement”—began with a screening of the film “Brother Outside,” which centers on the life of Bayard Rustin.

            Rustin was a black man who devoted much of his life to the civil rights movement. Though he was involved in many key pieces of the movement, including helping to organize the March on Washington in 1963, his name remains unknown to many. He was involved in advising Martin Luther King Jr., including organizing the memorial march after King’s death, yet he doesn’t appear prominently in the pages of our history books. This is suspected to be in large part due to his sexuality, as Rustin was openly gay.

            The purpose in showing this film was to focus on the existence of intersectionality in the Civil Rights era. Intersectionality looks at the way that varying categorizations—race, class, sexuality and gender —can impact a person’s life. In Rustin’s case, the film exemplified how the combination of his race and sexuality greatly influenced his life.

            Names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are familiar to all and taught in schools across the country, but Bayard Rustin is unfamiliar to most. He remains overlooked despite Rustin being involved in the fight for civil rights for longer than King, and refusing to give up a seat on a bus before Parks even did.

            After the conclusion of the film, attendants were invited to join the panel leaders at the front of the room for a discussion on the film and intersectionality.

            The discussion panel’s first member introduced was Mark Rifkin, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at UNCG. Cerise Glenn, a member of the Communication Studies Department and Dominique Nixon, a student, rounded out the group of panel members.

            The discussion began with a question from Rifkin—“Why do we think this story is important?”

            Students present pointed out how Rustin, a pacifist, exemplified how a non-violent approach can frequently be a more tactful approach than is violence. Other students pointed out just how great an example of intersectionality the film and Rustin’s life was. It showcased how Rustin had to negotiate himself as both a gay man and a black man.

            Glenn posed the question, “How do you see intersectionality manifesting in the film?” Nixon pointed out how, growing up, we are exposed to this one type of figure, and how important it is to include examples of those who don’t necessarily fit into this mold that we are so used to seeing. Telling the story from one perspective can be a hindrance towards progression in equality.

            Much of the discussion that took place during the panel focused on the battle that still exists, despite the efforts of people like Rustin. Though strides were made by Rustin and fellow civil rights activists, students stressed how crucial they believed it was for the continuance of this fight and others.

            The month of April will continue to feature various events educating people on and in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community at UNCG, ending with a Pride March on April 28. For more information on opportunities to join UNCG students and staff in Pride Month, visit The Office of Intercultural Engagement webpage.

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