By Tatyanna Carman
Author and political rights activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community (LGBTQ) Staceyann Chin came to deliver the keynote address for National Coming Out Day on Oct. 10 in the Rue Auditorium.
In a collaboration between SPECTRUM Pride Alliance, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and gender and sexuality studies, Chin came to discuss her new book, “Crossfire: A Litany for Survival,” which is a collection of her poetry.
After Pamela Pruitt, the director of the center for Diversity and Inclusion and SPECTRUM Vice President Caelum Hamilton gave the introductions for themselves and the speaker, Chin started by candidly talking about her mental health struggles and the importance of seeking therapy.
“I’m black, I’m biracial, I’m an immigrant, I’m a lesbian, I’m a single momma, I’m an artist and I’m a poet…. So I need all the therapy I can get,” Chin said.
She also encouraged the nearly-full auditorium audience to also go to therapy. She talked about her experiences as a child in Jamaica from her first book, “The Other Side of Paradise,” which connected to issues such as sexual assault, sexual awakening and the parameters of conformity.
“I was bouncing from house to house many times. So [sexuality] never dawned on me,” said Chin. “When I was a teenager, I remember everybody started acting real stupid. All the boys started telling the dumbest jokes and all the girls would be like ‘Hahaha,’ all the time. It wasn’t even that funny but, I could not understand what was going on. But I knew that the trick was that everyone knew you needed to have a boyfriend. I was like, ‘I need to get one of them.’”
Audience members found that her experiences were informative and made the event enjoyable. Sophomore TV, film and radio major Estaban Collado shared his thoughts on the event and the speaker.
“The event was very insightful. [Chin] was so theatrical, I really liked how she was able to incorporate humor while talking about what most of the time most people would refer to as a very sensitive topic,” he said.
Chin also talked about her experience in college and how different the environment and the people were from her home. But it was also the place where she had her first crush on a classmate who questioned the construction of religion.
“So I’m sitting there and she’s talking about like ‘You know, if society is constructed, then maybe religion is constructed,’” she said. “And I’m like ‘This [expletive] is going to hell.’ And then she says ‘God might be constructed also,’ and I’m like ‘Hell, hell, hell!’ [I] try to move aside, I’m pulling away from her, but she [is] mad sexy. ‘I’m only here to save your soul.’ And everytime I’m near her, the floor of my belly is falling out.”
The audience members laughed during her witty and comical commentary and listened intently to her stories that had a more serious undertone. She then shared two more of her poems from her new book, “Crossfire: A Litany for Survival.” One detailed her negative feelings about President Donald Trump.
“Every time I step into a microphone I develop an uncomfortable itch to shout Donald J. Drumpf is not my president,” she writes.
After she spoke, audience members asked Chin questions pertaining to her thoughts on how activism has changed and her advice to young activists now.
“I think we are still in the place where we still don’t know how to build a coalition and work together,” said Chin. “So, we have seasons that we work on different issues and then we forget the other issues that isn’t the issue that we’re working on. So I’ve seen that in the 20 years that I’ve been an activist, where I’ve seen that change.”
She also shared her thoughts on labels within the LGBTQ community and her own struggle with using the word “lesbian.”
“I can’t just discard you because you use the word lesbian and I don’t want to use lesbian. But from what I hear you saying, you date people who identify as women or people who are female-bodied, right? And me too, so what? You can come for tea.”
Collado commended the Center for Diversity and Inclusion for hosting events like this. He said that he walked away from this event learning about some of the obstacles that people in LGBTQ community may face when coming out.
He said, “The Center for Diversity and Inclusion is one of the most essential components of Rider’s community because it creates diverse programming that makes all students feel included enough to call Rider their home away from home.”