A series of words, speeches, poems and short stories entitled “A Reading for Black Queer Men and Those Who Have Love for Them” was presented by a group that aimed to project the stories of black men who died from HIV.
Senior Ishmael Bishop, who is a member of The Daily Tar Heel's editorial board, said he created the event because of the story of Michael Johnson, a gay man with HIV.
Bishop said Michael Johnson was sent to prison for recklessly endangering a sexual partner of his with HIV, and Johnson’s story sparked the criminalization of black gay men with HIV.
The program highlighted the discrimination and stereotyping that not only black queer men but also all of the LGBTQ community face to this day.
“Tonight, the voices you have heard and will hear are the voices of black men — some queer, others not — retelling the stories of same-gender-loving men who have died due to an AIDS-related illness,” Bishop said to introduce the readings.
“Hear not necessarily the voices of the people speaking but the voices of the people they are channeling and that they are giving another voice to since they have passed.”
Jerome Allen, a senior dramatic art and environmental studies major, performed a speech given to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in New York City by Melvin Boozer regarding justice for gays and lesbians in 1980.
“Why must we be denied a fair chance to participate in the American life which we have contributed to as much as anyone else?” Allen said in the speech. “Why must we be subjected to harassment and intimidation and ridicule when the Constitution of this great nation has already provided that all citizens shall enjoy the equal protection of the law?”
Following the readings, the space was opened up for the audience to discuss issues explored by the speakers. Students like Shelby Dawkins-Law, a Ph.D. candidate, discussed the idea of activism and allies, debating what it means to be a true ally.
“On the same tone as ‘just listen,’ people should really just being quiet and observing,” Dawkins-Law said. “I think that allies spend time articulating how great of an ally they are and how committed of an ally they are without realizing how them speaking so much about how they’re helping is silencing the greater issue.”
Damian Walker, a junior political science and economics major, expanded on the idea that many people do not understand the issue they are fighting for.
“Empathy versus sympathy,” Walker said. “It’s hard to tell about someone’s situation if you’ve never experienced the situation.”
Senior Lauren Martin, a psychology and women’s studies major, said the event was an opportunity to support and better understand the LGBTQ community.
“I think it is just very interesting to hear,” Martin said. “You read essays a lot about people of all kinds of specific identities but I think its really important hearing them out loud, spoken by people."
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