LGBTQ keynote speaker Reina Gossett inspires and informs
In her talk, Gossett gave an insightful look into the tumultuous, yet triumphant, history of neglected members of the LGBTQ movement.
On the night of Tuesday, Oct. 21, lightning split the sky and rain fell in sheets across the University Center. Inside, however, the only marks of the weather were the emergency alert tones humming from phones and the damp, but smiling, faces of an eager crowd. As Reina Gosset, the 2014 LGBTQ history month keynote speaker, prepared to take the stage the buzz of conversation gave way to the quiet of anticipation.
According to her website, www.reinagossett.com, Gossett is a recipient of the George Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship and 2014-2015 Activist-In-Residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women. She is a filmmaker, writer and community organizer.
Gosset’s eclectic background is characteristic of the interdisciplinary emphasis of the critical social justice field. However, Gossett was firm in stating that this solidarity must extend beyond the professional realm, and that unity and solidarity between oppressed populations is essential for social change, as past leaders of the LGBTQ movement have worked to show us.
The point was reaffirmed with accounts from Gossett’s own research, including one powerful video featuring activist and early organizer of the LGBTQ movement, Sylvia Rivera. In the video, Rivera, a trans woman of color, faces a hostile crowd after the 4th annual Christopher Street Liberation March, now known as Gay Pride. As Rivera tried to get on stage earlier that day, she was assaulted by the same individuals whom she helped organize and support.
Gossett’s account of how trans individuals were scapegoated within the early LGBTQ movement was harrowing, but, Rivera’s bravery in rallying against transphobia was nothing less than inspiring.
“There’s so much invested in us forgetting that people who are doing this work are currently incarcerated, people who have being doing this work for a long time, people who are Sylvia’s comrades are right now incarcerated and navigating criminalization. Sylvia didn’t forget, and she continues to remind us,” Gossett said.
As important as the videos Gossett showed are, there are many more important acts that she couldn’t, and may never be able to show.
“So often what we come to know as facts, or what we come in contact with inside an archive, happened through a violent, discerning process, which separates out whose lives are valuable to record, whose actions are important to note,” Gossett said.
Countering the “violence of erasure” is essential, and to this end Gossett has worked to familiarize herself with a woman known as Marsha P. Johnson, a woman whose contributions to the LGBTQ movement were almost lost to history.
“She was one of the first people to fight back at Stonewall…she [and Sylvia Rivera] formed STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries…She galvanized people from inside jails and prisons, as well as created a home for them in the form of STAR House in Manhattan’s lower east-side,” Gossett said.
Gossett’s spotlight on marginalized members of the LGBTQ community and their achievements was a powerful statement on solidarity, both with those struggling in the present movement and those who gave their lives to shape it.