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University Queer Union hosts activist Janet Mock

Pride Week initiatives aim to bring certain issues to the University community

<p>Mock emphasized the need for self-definition in issues affecting the LGBTQ community. </p>

Mock emphasized the need for self-definition in issues affecting the LGBTQ community. 

In commemoration of the seventh annual International Transgender Day of Visibility, the University Queer Student Union hosted transgender activist Janet Mock in conjunction with University Pride Week.

QSU Vice President of Finance Jason Jones, a third-year Commerce student, said QSU typically has one keynote speaker a semester.

“[Pride Week] is a combination of a lot of different organizations putting together one week to really [address] a variety of issues as well as [highlight] potential for social experiences for the U.Va. community,” Jones said.

QSU President Sarah Leser, a fourth-year College student, said she hopes the event opens the door for further discussion of transgender topics across Grounds.

“QSU’s exec. board is all…homosexual people so there’s [room for more] diversity among us. When we’re able to bring in these other people that help add some representation and voices to the broader dialogue about queer issues at U.Va. we always take…that option,” she said.

Janet Mock, a transgender activist, author and cultural commentator from Honolulu, Hawaii, spoke to University and community members about her book “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More” — the narrative of her experience as a transwoman.

“It’s about making my voice heard…making myself matter in a world that often tells me I don’t,” Mock said. “I’m here and this is my story…these are the things that I want to talk about. I love pop culture. I am an activist. I write. I am a journalist. I care about social justice issues and feminist issues.”

University WGS lecturer Cori Fields moderated the discussion and asked Mock to elaborate on the reasoning behind the title of her book.

“It’s about authenticity and all of us figuring out what that means for ourselves,” Mock said. “It’s about self definition and declaring ourselves to the world. It was important for me to have a term that was rooted within the community.”

When asked what it means to be a good ally to a member of the transgender community, Mock said, “[Allyship means] not seeing [queer identity] as an identity or label or bumper sticker, but really seeing it as a process that involves action. The most important thing is to realize that as an ally you must take your education upon yourself,” Mock said.

QSU Vice President of Community Engagement Andrew Zabala, a fourth-year College student, said he hoped the talk would help facilitate discussion of transgender issues on Grounds and the nation as a whole.

“Janet Mock coming to speak is really great…because there are a lot of people who don’t usually come to LGBTQ themed events who are coming to this,” Zabala said. “I am interested to hear about the historic violence against trans-women of color and the frequency of that [violence] within the U.S.”

After speaking about the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality, Mock was asked about her response to the Mar. 18 arrest of third-year College student Martese Johnson.

“I love that this conversation and the youth-led activism is gaining visibility,” Mock said. “Many, many leaders are doing so much work in their own communities. [They are] fighting to say that our lives matter, [that] black lives matter.”

Even though Mock is considered an LGBTQ activist, she said she’s seen the term LGBTQ evolve in many ways.

“Mainstreaming of the [LGBTQ] movement has put a large priority on love and not so much about who you are,” Mock said. “That’s become kind of problematic in a sense [as far as] whose narratives we tell.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Serpentine Society, the University LGBTQ alumni organization, and several other groups such as College Council, Project Rise and the WGS and English departments. 

QSU members said the purpose of tonight’s event was to to give more of a face and a voice to often masked identities at the University.

“[That’s] what we hope to accomplish with bringing Janet … [is] further discussion on trans-issues,” Jones said.

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