This post was written by Tela Gerber, a student who studied abroad at the London Center in Spring 2019.
On the evening of February 27th, 2019, many gathered to create a “Brave Space” together in the student lounge of Faraday House. Beginning with a timeline of the history of queer identities in the UK, diverse stalls framing the evening displayed the works and talents of many participants. As I stood in the entryway of the brave space welcoming guests, many with whom I engaged in conversations, I had the privilege of hearing a diverse range of perspectives, all of which maintained a similar core message. This message – one of inclusion and acceptance – was threaded through each and every word spoken, and filled the spaces between each individual.
A personal story shared by Jovita Adom (our Academic Excellence & Inclusion Coordinator) began the evening by inviting all to accept each other and embrace our identities. How lovely is it to be capable of sharing one’s own personal journey and invite others to relate with one another through similarities and differences between journeys?
The research presented by Lloyd (Meadhbh) Houston provided insight to discrimination of queer identities in academic environments. Their description of the ways in which university leaders have removed material containing information about LGBT+ history and identities from curriculum was powerful, especially as it was described in an academic setting attended by a large variety of students. I found myself reflecting upon my own educational experiences, thankful for the education about queer history that I have had, but wishing I had had more. How do you think queer history has been displayed in your own educational experiences? How has it affected you?
While I learned about the studies of Santina Sorrenti examining the expression of identity through clothing, I considered my own choice of clothing each day. How would I feel if I was discriminated against for choosing to wear leggings or mismatched socks? What if I was unable to express myself through my jewelry or favorite baggy sweatpants? How might that lack of control over that part of identity expression impact by confidence and comfort in my own identity?
My interactions with Jacob Bloomfield and Lizzy Shakespeare left me feeling inspired, while Lizzy’s drag king performance as Danly Steele left me applauding and laughing simultaneously. The expressions of their identities through performance were beautiful, and their abilities as performers blew me away as I stood watching in awe.
As the evening came to a close, I was tired from the intensity of the emotions shared throughout the evening. The comfort and bravery, the laughter and tears brought each individual together. The closing remarks of Dr. Troy Gordon (our Center Director) brought each performance and interaction full-circle, as he described the development of queer history and identities in the UK: not as linear progress, but as circular and ever-growing.
Ending this, I would like to share the two poems on display that night that really capture the vibe. The first inspired the name of the event:
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side
And from a memorial tribute to a fellow student’s best friend, who was tragically killed this January in a hate crime:
Whatever you washed onto my shore,
It taught me a lot about myself.
Your seaglass touch
And driftwood words
Changed the way I see the world.
For that I can never repay you.
-‘Blazing Tides’ by Blaze Bernstein
In his memory, may we always Blaze It Forward.