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Forum addresses sex, gender orientation

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David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, gives the keynote address at the Viking Pride: Gender and Sexual Orientation Forum in the campus student center, Monday evening.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A panelist at a forum on gender and sexual orientation Monday afternoon at Elizabeth City State University urged people to be allies for people facing mistreatment and discrimination.

The event — Viking Pride: Gender and Sexual Orientation Forum — was held Monday at 5 p.m. in the Ridley Student Center on the ECSU campus as part of this week’s ECSU Homecoming activities. It was sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement.

B. Cole, a panelist at the forum, challenged people to recognize that they can be an ally and “lifeline” for a friend or family member who is facing mistreatment and discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

“As allies you have the opportunity to save someone’s life,” Cole said. “We need to figure out how to show up for each other.”

As Cole talked about the importance of being an ally, she noted black people have typically found strength in community and family but added allies need to be intentional ensuring that a lifeline is there for people facing exclusion because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

“As black people, despite everything that we have had thrown at us, we have always survived because we have had each other,” Cole said.

Cole in 2010 launched the Brown Boi Project, which is described in information provided in a handout distributed at the forum as “a leadership development program that bridges gender and racial dialogues between masculine of center womyn, trans men, queer men, and straight men of color.”

Cole’s comments about saving someone’s life were underscored by ECSU senior Justyn Smith’s narrative of considering suicide while he was in high school. Smith, who participated in the panel discussion, said he still wasn’t comfortable with himself when he first started college. But he said if he had known what he does now when he was a freshman, he wouldn’t have worried about people judging him or “looking at me sideways.”

“I just want everybody to stop judging,” Smith said, explaining he is not afraid to be himself.

“I’m proud of who I am, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are,” Smith said.

Another student panelist, freshman Tyran Loving, who is the president of the campus organization True Colors, said that at first “I felt unwelcomed in my own home”, but now he experiences love and acceptance from his family.

“It took a lot of standing my ground as far as what I believe in,” Loving said.

Loving said that as a black gay man, “I just really want everyone here to embrace every individual.”

Panelist Charles Stephens, who is the founder and executive director of the Counter Narrative Project, a national black gay men’s advocacy organization, challenged those attending the forum to “question, interrogate, be open to new infomation.”

Keynote speaker David J. Johns spoke about intersectionality and especially the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation.

He congratulated ECSU for taking steps to create safe space for everyone but said that is not the case in society as a whole.

“We take for granted that we have fought and won battles that too many members of our community are still having to fight,” said Johns, who is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition and served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in the administration of President Barack Obama.

Johns urged people to do four things: “Hold space for everyone; respect people for who they are, as they show up; fight for intersectional social justice; and use your privilege for good.”

“One of the questions that we all should be asking ourselves is ‘how will we leverage our privilege for good?’” Johns asked.

Johns blasted the Trump administration in light of reports that the administration “wants to deny the existence of trans people.”

“We have to acknowledge that this has everything to do with politics,” Johns said.

Black people are dying from HIV-AIDS, and don’t have to be when there have been so many technological advances in treatment, he said. But deaths from HIV-AIDS among black people result partly from lack of access to health care and the stigma around the disease.

“If you purport to care about the health, well-being and safety of black people, you have to care about the HIV epidemic,” Johns said.

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