Jose Antonio Vargas is a gay Filipino. Janet Mock is a black trans woman. Richard Blanco is a gay Latino. They share a few things in common: all are accomplished writers. All have been keynote speakers at U of L’s Pride Week. All spoke about the importance of intersectionality in the shaping of their identities.
Following that trend, students active at the LGBT and Cultural Centers have united to form Shades, a student group focused on addressing issues that affect students of color who identify as LGBT.
“The problem is LGBT students of color have not seen themselves represented on campus,” said Tamara Russell, an employee of the Cultural Center who is also the group’s adviser. “We’re trying to speak to that need in whatever ways we can.”
“I am a black, female, lesbian. There are areas where I can express maybe one or two of those identities but not all of them at the same time,” said active member and graduate student Erin Smith. “That’s what I want Shades to become: a safe place where students can express every part of themselves. The University of Louisville has been amazing in the way they have created safe spaces for students of different ethnic minorities and sexual orientations can interact and be social however, there are still gaps that exist that are not being addressed. The intersections of race, gender and sexuality is one of those gaps that Shades will be able to fill.”
Shades is something of a rebranding for a prior group, BlkOut, which primarily focused on black and LGBT issues.
“We wanted to promote African-American culture, but we also wanted everybody to be able to benefit as well. So now it’s all people of color. It’s not just a black thing,” said Celes Smith, an active member of the group, and a student ambassador for the LGBT Center.
While Shades has not yet received its official Recognized Student Organization status, members hope this process will be finalized at the next meeting of the SGA Senate. Plans are currently in the works to partner with the Latin American Student Organization and the Association of Black Students, as well as the Office of Sustainability for community service projects.
Its next event, though, is a film. Shades will be showing the documentary “The New Black” on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in Shumaker Research Building, room 139. It addresses the intersection of the LGBT, black and Christian communities, and the conflicts of identity that can arise between the three. Following the screening, there will be a discussion.
Erin chose the documentary.
“The issue of being a queer person of color and Christian was something that I constantly struggled with in my own life,” she said. “I would go to church almost every Sunday and would have to sit through sometimes very uncomfortable sermons about sin and homosexuality. I felt like a outsider within my church family that has seen me grow and mature throughout the years, and knew that if they were to discover the truth about my sexuality that I would be treated differently.
“I could also relate to the feeling of being an outsider within my race because of my sexuality and the bad reputation the LGBT community has been given through the preaching and teaching of the black church and matriarch-of-the-black-family structure.”
Celes said she hasn’t seen the film yet, but thinks that seeing it for the first time when it is screened will be more conducive to the discussion.
“I want it to have that first initial reaction for me. I don’t have any preconceived notions about any of it. I’m very excited to see what kind of outrage and then thought it incites in all of us,” she said.