Out Of The Closet And Into The Future

Male student

Nick Large, Master of Public Affairs ’18

Every June we celebrate LGBT pride here in San Francisco. Timed to coincide with the historic Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, pride is a time when Market Street dawns rainbow banners and corporations offer targeted pride advertising only seen in carefully selected markets. Bringing in upwards of 1 million into the city, San Francisco Pride is one of the largest pride festivals in the world, but has it lost its meaning? As someone who moved to San Francisco in 2011, my first pride celebration here brought a flurry of feelings. I had been to pride celebrations before, but it was odd coming to one so full of young people dressed ready to rave. How many rainbow tutus does it take to achieve equality?

Coming from suburban Los Angeles, my context of gay America was much different. In 6th grade, I remember learning about Dan White’s Twinkie defense. I didn’t fully understand it or have the historical context then, but I knew from one of my English teachers that he had basically gotten away with the murder of Harvey Milk, a gay man. Despite happening in 1978, I also knew that the history wasn’t as far in the past as it had seemed. Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998 after all. I remember learning about his murder because I saw Ellen on TV crying at a rally. “Why is she so upset?” I asked.

I remember the day I first realized how different I was from the other kids asking each other to the school dances. I remember when I wanted to be a woman. It happened right off of Bank and Fair Oaks Ave. It was right before band class. I stopped exactly where I was, and it was one of those moments where you have a sudden realization and it changes your life. I thought it was a secret I would have to die with. Luckily it wasn’t.

Now, as a drag performer prepping for a busy month, I think about the changing landscape of LGBT people in San Francisco and the changing attitudes. Two years ago, I had a teenager in drag come up to me saying they were a fishier version of Divine. From the way they were dressed and from what they continued to say, it was clear they had no idea who Divine actually was. The experience was conflicting for me because I was glad this teenager was able to get creative with their gender expression, but in many ways, it was also symbolic of a loss of history of sorts that I think is dangerous.

As someone who has spent the past year studying LGBT movements in San Francisco, I firmly believe that the stories of the most marginalized among us can teach us the most. When you lose this history, you lose some of the most valuable lessons our society has struggled to put forth. Only being 28, it’s strange for me to think that I’m not much older than people experiencing their first pride, but that the context is still dramatically different. Discrimination is still very real for many under the LGBT umbrella, but there are also many who have no such experiences. Without the history to guide us into the future we are doomed to make the same mistakes. Doomed to continue the same policies that have created a homeless youth population that is roughly 50% LGBT. This pride, it’s time for us to listen to the most marginalized. It’s time to take the lessons of our forgotten past and apply them to the future, and importantly, it’s time to get some of these corporate pride groups to give their money to actually help LGBT causes.

Interested in marching with USF for the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 24th? RSVP here.

A Lesson from John Lewis and MARCH the Trilogy

unnamed

Ayah Mouhktar

 B.A. Media Studies ’18

Ayah is the new social media assistant for the McCarthy Center and worked on the co-sponsored speaker’s event with Congressman John Lewis on the campus of USF on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.

 

John Lewis was not a big part of my life growing up, he was not my idol and truthfully, I did not know who he was outside from what I read online about him.

Now, John Lewis is one of the biggest influences I have in my life, and it only took him one night of speaking for 20 minutes to a crowd of 200 people for me to realize that. I did not know what I was missing before hearing his voice resonate to a crowd of people of all races, gender and socio-economic class.

I walked into the event not knowing what to expect. Would there be a ton of suit and tie high profile people looking for photo ops, or important donors for USF that we had to impress? And to my surprise the first person that greeted me was a 6th grader named Heaven who I mentored while working for Magic Zone, an afterschool program dedicated to aiding students in the community with homework.

Heaven reminded me of someone I wish I was when I was in 6th grade. Growing up in New Jersey I was nervous and anxious for the future and I kept that anxiety with me for a long time, I was afraid to speak in public, I was afraid to have people know how I was feeling and Heaven was the exact opposite. She knew when she wanted to be heard, she articulated her ideas with such force that whoever she was talking to would have to remain silent to fully grasp what she wanted to say. She was hopeful, bright, smart and funny. Every quality I desperately needed when I was growing up.

Heaven was excited to hear and see John Lewis, an opportunity she said was like “meeting a celebrity.” Her joy, the light in her eyes and the excitement in her tone of voice reassured me that the future generation is not a lost cause, they are not phone addicts who are addicted to social media, but they are young, hopeful individuals who are hungry for knowledge and Heaven was the prime example of that.

If I took anything away from the John Lewis event it was not a quote from John Lewis himself, but rather a quote from his co writer, Andrew Aydin.

There was a portion during the event where people in the crowd could write anonymous questions/comments, so I took a notecard, wrote a question I thought would never get answered and handed it back to the program director. Ironically, my question was the first to be answered, “When I was younger I was so afraid of not having my voice heard, and now, being a Black Muslim woman in America I’m just afraid. What do you do to not only conquer your fears but to make sure your voice is heard?”

When prompted with the question he replied with a quote that will resonate with me forever, “Be you as loud as you can. Make everyone know who you are. If they don’t like it, they will get out of the way.”

I will be me – and be as loud as I can, and I will do so knowing that I have the support from Andrew Aydin and John Lewis himself.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more photos visit our Flickr album at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/94892181@N02/albums

Gender, Power and Democracy in India: A Sarlo Scholar’s Experience

By Neema Jyothiprakash

“Zindabad! Zindabad!”

It means long live the revolution; I have only seen it on TV, as protesters chant, or in Bollywood movies. The second day at my organization I interned with, I saw it said as hands clasped together in greeting. People had come from 3 or 4 hours away for the monthly staff meeting; they were tired from traveling and evening had arrived, but “Zindabad!” was said with the energy it commands.

I asked why it was used as a greeting, and my supervisor, Sarfraz said “We don’t quietly put our hands together, bow and say ‘namaste.’ We are activists! So we say ‘Zindabad!’”

It’s the McCarthy Center at USF that brought me to this meeting of activists in Rajasthan, India. I participated in the McCarthy Center’s Global Service-Learning Fellowship, where I interned at a local grassroots NGO in Udaipur, Rajasthan, created my own sustainable development project, and designed and conducted academic research.

My organization, Kotda Adivasi Sansthan (KAS), is a rights-based organization that seeks to empower and educate tribal and indigenous communities in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The organization campus is 3 hours away from Udaipur, deep in the rural forest areas of Rajasthan. I stay there 5 days out of the week and come back to my host family in the city on the weekends. It’s an office, but also a home because everyone who works there lives there. Everyone laughs loudly, is silly and childlike, banters like family, and works at odd hours in 3-hour increments. We stop for chai 4 times a day, take afternoon naps, and use old bed frames to sit outside in the evening when it’s cooler.

neema1The days are long and there is no pressure to be productive and fix the world. I am asked on the first day how the States are different from India and this concept of the time is the first thing I remark about. They laugh knowingly, and tell me that I only have one life so I might as well enjoy it and relax. I find it comforting how easily I can slip back into this Indian concept of time, how easily I can let go of the need to constantly be productive, to discover exciting things, to break intellectual ground, to change the world from here.

But I’m focused enough to design my project, which had 3 components: 1) designing and facilitating three trainings on gender and power for the community and staff, 2) creating a training tool for capacity building of women through self-help groups, and 3) creating an educational curriculum for tribal youth about democracy and consensus-based decision-making.

My project was the marriage of two things: asset mapping of the Kotda community and asset mapping of myself. What are the strengths and gifts within the community that I can combine with my own strengths and gifts? Through this experience then, I learned an incredible amount about my own capabilities, and I also learned an incredible amount about a specific local community—the various power dynamics, the narratives embedded within the community, the challenges, the successes, what holds the community together, and what pulls it apart.

neema2A lot of this knowledge came from “going into the field:” I attend panchayat (village council; India’s most decentralized form of democratic governance) meetings about forest rights, employment for rural communities, and women’s self-help groups. I observed, took notes, and interviewed mostly women—those that were political leaders and those that were mainly householders and farmers. These experiences that made me fall in love with India in way I never had before. As an Indian-American, I had been to India previously, but never in this capacity. Politics is dynamic, daily, urgent, and radical in the villages.

neema3Village meetings and the culture of community organizing I was exposed to is what draws me back to India more than anything after three months of being back in the States. As graduation approaches, I struggle to remember this and all the moments of wonder and peace I had over the summer. But reflection always brings me back and reminds me of my ties there. As this semester winds down, I keep one foot in the world of the Bay Area, job opportunities, and urban life. And I keep the other, firmly planted in the green forests and warm monsoons of rural India.