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LGBTQ Center hosts queer history event to celebrate National Coming Out Day

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On Wednesday, the UNC LGBTQ Center hosted  “Uncovering LGBTQIA+ History” — an interactive presentation on queer history prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City — at Varsity Theatre.

Community members and students who attended the event were greeted by tables in the theater lobby with items like buttons, bracelets and hats and appetizers.

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The event was hosted to celebrate National Coming Out Day and LGBTQ+ History Month, its Heel Life page said.

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“Every National Coming Out Day is not the same,” Jamillae Stockett, LGBTQ Center assistant director said. “We do different things on those, but this year we really wanted to concentrate on learning about the history and the importance of the queer community.”

Eric Reeves, a senior at Wingate University and a member of Equality North Carolina’sRural Youth Empowerment Fellowship program, led the event. He spoke about centuries of LGBTQ+ history, facilitating conversations about activists and historical figures like Frances Thompson, Thomas(ine) Hall and William Dorsey Swann with the audience.

UNC junior Kaela Curtis said the presentation’s focus on Black, queer political figures was illuminating because it highlighted the nuances of what it meant to be marginalized and queer centuries ago. 

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Curtis said being openly queer before Stonewall was "double bravery."

“Especially right now when we see so much arguing over what type of history should be taught — and how much or what people can know — I think it’s really powerful to actively engage in historical knowledge and choose to state the record,” Curtis said. 

Stockett said the LGBTQ Center aimed to show queer students that they do, and always have, had a presence at the University and that their history goes beyond the legacy of Stonewall.

“I think so many people, especially when they think of queer history in America, think of Stonewall as the starting point but that’s not it,” Curtis said. 

Karlie Kemper, a third-year UNC graduate student, said they were drawn to the event because they are part of the LGBTQ+ community and were curious to learn more. 

“I feel like there’s already so much erasure of queer history and so any event that gives a space to just talk about it and learn about it is exciting,” Kemper said. 

Kemper, who worked for the LGBTQ Center last year, said the center has a long history of advocating for gender-inclusive housing and gender-neutral bathrooms, but felt that the program's work did not receive adequate attention.

Curtis said she didn’t know about the Wednesday event until a co-worker told them about the free food, and they didn’t know the event's purpose before arriving. Curtis said greater outreach on the part of the University would have been helpful in encouraging more people to come to the event and others.

Although the LGBTQ Center is a resource for many queer students over the past two decades, Curtis said most LGBTQ+ community events are discovered via word-of-mouth. 

“Especially with so many things going on right now, it would be greatly appreciated to see the University take steps to actively outline some of the things that are available instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves,” they said. 

Kemper said learning the history of how discrimination has been “crafted” through specific legislation and public policy was a valuable part of the event’s presentation. 

“I feel like it’s so helpful to learn those specifics in order to not hold that stigma in our identities anymore — to understand how it’s constructed and not an inherent part of us,” Kemper said. 

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@LenaMiano

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