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Wednesday, April 11,2012

National transgender leader keynotes Pride Week at OU

By Mallorie Sullivan
Photo Credits: Photo by Joel Bissell.
Photo Caption: Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, speaks at Walter Rotunda Tuesday as the keynote speaker for Pride Week at OU.

Tuesday evening, the Ohio University Student Senate's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Commission hosted one of the nation's leading voices for transgender equality as the designated keynote speaker for this year's Pride Week events at OU.

Students and faculty gathered at OU's Walter Hall Rotunda to lend their ears to Mara Keisling, executive founding director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) located in Washington, D.C. Keisling, a transgender-identified woman since January 2000, has been working as a transgender activist since about the time she began living as a woman.

Keisling delivered a lively, educational speech, resonating with the audience through her quick wit and passion for LGBT equality. Throughout the speech, she addressed issues that frequently crop up in the life of a transgendered individual, what it means to be an ethical activist, and the current state of the LGBT movement.

"Twenty years ago, most Americans didn't think they had a sexual orientation because that's what they thought gay people had," Keisling said. "Today, reasonable people know that everyone has a sexual orientation, but most people don't get gender identity still."

In addition to the spread of LGBT awareness across the nation over the years, Keisling touched on other victories that the group has achieved, such as federal health-care reform and the recent implementation of a policy by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which ensures that its core programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

"The health-care reformat is really great for transgender people and LGBT people in general," Keisling explained. "There are no more pre-existing conditions, and (the government is) working really hard to make sure that LGBT people are included thoughtfully and not discriminated against."

One of the biggest challenges that Keisling believes the LGBT community faces is the issue of marriage equality, and how much it has attracted the focus of the movement.

"I am very much a supporter of marriage equality," Keisling said, "but the LGBT movement is becoming a marriage equality movement and it's killing us" since it takes attention away from other important issues. This is similar, she said, to what happened with the women's rights movement after it began focusing on a single issue.

"Once it turned into a reproductive rights movement, it really shriveled," she said.

Marriage equality, however, isn't the only challenge that Keisling believes the community faces. She also cited the sexual assault problem in prisons and jails, queer families being torn apart in immigration detentions, and the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. She then spoke about how to become a more supportive ally to those who do identify as a member of the LGBT community and are experiencing hardships.

"Think about how you can be a hero, either by stopping ignorance or just hanging out in the LGBT center to support the people there," she said. "We need to tell them more than "it'll get better"; we will be there for them as activists for justice."

Keisling said she believes that moral activism is the key to solving LGBT inequality and promoting rights for transgendered people, and noted that everyone has an obligation to be moral.

"You cannot do social justice unjustly," she said. "You have to be just and you have to be moral."

She then offered six tips to create a better understanding of what qualities an influential social activist should possess.

The first is to be amazed. "You have to find the activism that means something to you," she said. "Find something that you like. You become amazing when you're amazed."

The second is to have a moral compass and a moral worldview. "Know what's right and what's wrong, and don't fudge it," she said. "If it's wrong, don't do it."

Being intentional in how we handle our identities and our activism is the third tip, which led into a discussion about how activism should be viewed as service, and service is love. Keisling suggested that in order to begin your activism, it's essential to find your "superpower," or what you're good at, and also recognize that you are replaceable.

"Understand that you're replaceable," she said. "Not as individuals, but as activists. If you run an organization or effort, and it's going to fall apart when you leave, it's a little bit your fault."

In addition to her advocacy toward the LGBT community, Keisling offered her support in regards to fighting discrimination on the basis of race, noting that she has been adding a portion about racism into her speeches for two years in order to get white people to talk more about race.

To Jason Armstrong, Keisling's speech was an informative, entertaining reminder of the progress that the LGBT community continues to make every day.

"As a politically aware member of the LGBTQ community, it was phenomenal to hear of all the good things being done by way of equality," Armstrong said. "Sometimes we focus more on what we don't have instead of what we do, so it's nice to be reminded of the progress being made by someone directly responsible."

The events remaining in Pride Week include…

Thursday, April 12

• Open Doors' Variety Show. 10:30 p.m., Casa Cantina. $5 Admission. All proceeds go to charity.

Friday, April 13

• Free Anonymous HIV Testing. 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., Baker University Center.

Saturday April 14

• Volunteer with United Campus Ministry's Saturday Lunch. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., UCM (18 North College Street).


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