Welcome to the
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center’s Alumni Newsletter!
With graduation just around the corner, in a couple of months, I’m going to start receiving this newsletter rather than help to create it. I know what the Center can look like for students, faculty, and staff. Yet being an employee here has prohibited me from connecting — as a student– to other trans and queer students on campus. By being so connected to the mechanics of making sure the Center continues to enrich the lives of trans, queer, and intersex (TQI) folx, I’ve missed out on the opportunity to build a student community of my own. So, when I think about what I want to see in this newsletter after I leave, I think I have a different understanding of what makes the LGBT Center at Penn so critical to the lives of TQI faculty, staff, and students at Penn.
For instance, I bet you didn’t know that there’s a group of staff on campus — named “Student Name and Gender Working Group–devoted explicitly to supporting gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and trans (GNBT) folks in the logistical apparatus at Penn. Thanks to the advocacy of the Center we know that gender markers and names can be updated at Penn. But how does this technologically happen since Penn community members have to navigate multiple online platforms: WorkDay, PennInTouch, ApplyWeb, etc.? SNG-WG’s (pronounced “Snug-Wug”) mission is to streamline the entire process, so that–say– if you change your name in one system, do the other systems respond positively to that change? In having a non-binary sex marker, or “X” on all my legal documents, I have existed as a test-pilot to determine if Penn systems are physically ready to support nonbinary and intersex folx, in a technological world built of the binary code. I want to be updated to know that nonbinary and intersex folx can technologically exist on campus and aren’t continually misgendered or missexed because of an archaic tech system.
The Center just applied for a grant to collaborate with the Fine Arts Department to update the art in the space, so it’s more reflective of the populations we serve. Will the Center get the grant? Fertility treatments and adoption support still aren’t covered under Penn’s insurance plan. Erin keeps advocating in HR, but is the system of Penn ready to acknowledge some unique healthcare barriers specific to LGBTQIA folx? PennDOT will be rolling out “X” markers on IDs later this year for folx who want them. How will the Center support the Penn eco-system during this transition? Pennsylvania still only amends birth certificates, rather than correcting them, leaving GNBT vulnerable to outing. How is the Center contributing to this conversation in Harrisburg for Penn’s community?
Maybe you’ve heard that Fresh Grocer on 40th and Walnut is closing its doors in the middle of March to make way for an ACME which will open later this year? What are students, faculty, staff, and West Philadelphia residents supposed to do for food and essential items while we wait for a new store to open? The LGBT Center is working with Penn First Plus (P1P), First Generation Low-Income (FGLI), and Greenfield Intercultural Centers (GIC) to make sure that food sovereignty on and around campus isn’t compromised any further. I want to be updated to know that students and community members aren’t having to miss meals because Penn’s administration decided not to renew Fresh Grocer’s lease.
After being the Social Work Intern at the Center for an academic year, I recognize that alumni want to hear about what has been accomplished so that they feel affectionate and supportive of their alma mater. However, it’s so challenging to pause and talk about accomplishments when the next project or conversation doesn’t allow for the privilege of reflection. This newsletter, as it currently exists, grants space to reflect, pause, and celebrate the small victories on the path towards equity and inclusion. Regardless of what the next social work intern will help this newsletter to become, I will know there’s a whole world beyond that newsletter full of unannounced meetings and strategies to center TQI folx at Penn, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the US. So, when I start getting the alumni newsletter, and I see the “Donate Today” button while Sallie Mae is knocking on my door, I’m going to be thinking of the ways I can donate my time, skills, and knowledge I’ve amassed working for the Center. Or, to quote the most significant play ever written: “Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”
Naomi Washington-Leapheart (she/her)
What brings you back to be involved in the center?
I wasn’t out while I was at Penn. I knew that I was something other than straight, but I didn’t have any language to help me articulate how I could keep my faith commitments AND be Black AND be queer. I want to be involved in the center today because I know that there are students who feel like I felt. I want to support them as they try to negotiate identities that have been framed as contradictory. I’m a Black, queer, Christian minister. I exist. So can they.
What does the LGBT Center at Penn mean to you?
It’s really amazing that the Center has pioneered the way for LGBTQ inclusion and radical hospitality in colleges and universities for so many years. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to make sure the Center thrives, and to make sure that the Center offers programming that resonates particularly with Black, Brown, and indigenous queer and trans folks — often, we’re invisible, fetishized, or held in contempt in LGBTQ spaces. The Center can help to eradicate that.
Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart
Director of Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs for The City of Philadelphia
Solidarity NOT Appropriation/ Full-Metal IndigiQueer Residency for the Rev Martin Luther King Jr Commemerative Symposium on Social Change, 2020
During the Rev Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change, 2020, in January, the LGBT Center was honored to host the first of its kind residency with Joshua Whitehead and Demian DinéYazhi’. For two days, Whitehead and DinéYazhi’ helped to facilitate dialogues around Indigeneity and social change as it relates to our current culture and movements of justice and equity.
On the first day, Whitehead and DinéYazhi’ spoke with SP2 students enrolled in the Understanding Social Change: Issues of Race and Gender, and Whitehead read pieces of his fictional work at Kelly Writers House. Later in the afternoon, they had a meeting with the Dean of SP2, Sally Bachman, and held a casual conversation with Indigenous faculty, staff, and students in the Greenfield Intercultural Center. On the second day, Whitehead and DinéYazhi’ read their poetry at a luncheon hosted by the LGBT Center, Greenfield Intercultural Center, and Penn Women’s Center. DinéYazhi’ then met with MFA students in the Fine Arts Department for MFA crits and later joined Whitehead, and Tailinh Agoyo, Director of We Are the Seeds of CultureTrust Philadelphia, for the Mark Gordon Lecture in the evening at Penn Law School.
The residency, titled, “Solidarity NOT Appropriation/Full-Metal IndigiQueer” was generously co-sponsored by The School of Social Policy and Practice, Annenberg School for Communication, Penn Dental Medicine, Penn Women’s Center, Kelly Writers House, Graduate School of Education, Greenfield Intercultural Center, The Department of English in Penn Arts and Sciences, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Alice Paul Center, The Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, Penn Law School, Penn Law Office of Inclusion & Engagement, Penn Law Native American Law Students Association, and Lambda Law of University of Pennsylvania.
Demian DinéYazhi’ is a transdisciplinary Indigenous Diné Nádleehí artist, poet, and curator. Their practice is a regurgitation of purported Decolonial praxis informed by the over accumulation and exploitative supremacist nature of hetero-cis-gendered communities post colonization. They were formed from their mother who is a descendant of sacred beings that came to emerge from this world through the holy act of migration and from a people ceremonially devoted to cosmological harmony and balance. They are a survivor of attempted European-inspired genocide, forced assimilation, White fear, sexual and gender violence, capitalist sabotage, and hypermarginalization in a colonized country that refuses to center their politics and philosophies around the Indigenous Peoples whose Land they occupy. They live and work in a post-post-apocalyptic world unafraid to fail.
(Photo credit: Kali Spitzer)
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-nêhiyaw, Two-Spirit member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is the author of full-metal indigiqueer and Jonny Appleseed. Currently he is an ABD doctoral student at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7) where he focusses on Indigenous literatures and cultures with a specialization in gender and sexuality. His forthcoming book, Making Love with the Land, a creative non-fiction manuscript that details Indigeneity, queerness, and mental health, is slated to release in 2021 with Knopf Canada.
Dismantling Oppression Olympics
On Wednesday, January 29th, 2020, the LGBT Center and fellow collaborators hosted a discussion based program titled “Oppression Olympics: Dismantling Oppression Olympics” as one of the final events of the Annual MLK Jr. Symposium for Social Change coordinated by the African American Resource Center. The event brought together a varied audience of about 30 people ranging from Penn faculty, staff, students and Philadelphia community members.
Facilitated by LGBT Center Associate Director Malik Muhammad, the discussion that ensued was profound. The major principle guiding the conversation was MLK Jr’s philosophy of “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” With this, Malik sparked a discussion focusing on the notion of the Oppression Olympics, the idea that social justice movements (namely the Black Civil Rights Movement and the LGBTQ+ Movement for this program) can not co-exist and must be pitted against each other.
Using intersectional frameworks and historical leaders like Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray, participants were able to gather historical knowledge and prime examples of how folks can support multiple marginalized identities, many that overlap) at one time. Overall, the discussion lead to some beautiful moments of solidarity manifesting and community building. In feedback received, one participant mentioned, “I was blow away by the dialogue and the participants.”
A special thank you goes out to Campaign for Community of the Penn Provost’s Office for providing funding to support the dinner that was provided. It certainly added a great layer to the event. Someone in attendance even said, “People’s faces were lighting up when the saw the many vegan opinions that were not just a salad.” We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing partners to offer a much need conversation.
This year QPenn is scheduled to be the week of March 23-27. We are super excited to help plan and host so many great events. Below are the events that will be included:
7PM: Kick-Off Party with Lambda Alliance, Lambda Grads, and PennGALA
12PM: Lunch and Learn with Wharton Alliance and Out4Biz
5:30PM: Study Break with Penn Aces
7PM: Gay-me Night with SAPPHO (Women’s Group)/Out in STEM
7PM: Founder of the Trevor Project (James Lecesne) with the Philomathean Society
Evening: Happy Hour at Toasted Walnut with Lambda Grads
11AM-1PM: Pronoun Button Making Event with Lambda Vets
6:30PM: Drag Show with Student Performers
8PM: Dance with 6B
12PM: Fariha Róisín Workshop with the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality & Women, the Asian American Studies Program (ASAM), the English Department, the Middle East Center, the LGBT Center, the Pan-Asian American Community House, the Penn Book Center, and the Penn Women’s Center
Evening: Pride Shabbat with J-BaGeL
Some event times have yet to be squared away, as we will be offering three group exercise classes on behalf of Penn Rec: a morning bootcamp, a midday yoga, and an evening spin class. Additionally, the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Department will be publishing a collection of reflections from the GSWS community on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble during the week as well.
If you’re interested in keeping up with all of the news and event updates, please visit our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/QPennWeek/.