HIV Testing and Drag Shows
The Resurrection of “Queer People of Color”
Author: Lindsay Robinson ’09
As a first-year student, I dabbled in a little bit of everything. I went to half a dozen meetings every week and signed up to be on all the mailing lists. I was planning events with Concerned Black Students, Grinnell Multicultural Alliance, and the Stonewall Coalition. I was tutoring Sudanese refugees, sewing quilts, and working with the Office of Admission. I joined whatever happened to interest me, whether or not I really had the time for it.
This is a common problem for first-year Grinnellians. With so many organizations to join, it’s difficult to choose just one, or even a few, on which to focus our energies. Even with all of the opportunities to be active, sometimes there can still be something missing — as I discovered.
Luckily, it’s easy to start your own organization here. After attending two conferences on student leadership during my second semester, I was confident I could do just that. Last year, with the help of a group of friends, we re-founded an organization called Queer People of Color (QPOC). We resurrected it to bring focus to a community on campus that we thought needed more attention. We found immediate support.
That semester, we organized a successful panel on the intersection of race and homophobia during Pride Week. Students had a chance to publicly discuss their experiences and personal issues. We held an “Apples to Apples” study break and offered QPOC-themed prizes (Bessie Smith, Margaret Cho, and Bad Education CDs). The study break gave us all a chance to kick back and pretend we didn’t have 10-page papers to write for the next day. We also organized the National Day of Silence on campus, and more than 150 people participated. Students ate silent meals in the dining halls and gathered for a group scream at the end of the day. Afterward, we talked about why participating in Day of Silence was important to us, and we wrote our thoughts on a huge cloth that hangs in the Stonewall Resource Center today.
This year we’ve continued working toward visibility and awareness for various issues. During Coming Out Week, we held a bake night where we watched a film about being Asian American and queer. At one of our meetings, we showed a documentary on being Latino/a and queer. But our biggest event so far has been a “Drag Extravaganza,” organized with the Transgender Advocacy Group and Multicultural Manor (an on-campus project house). In the afternoon, people could learn the history and how-tos of drag at a workshop. That night we held a drag show where the performers collected tips as a fundraiser. With that money and donations from other organizations, we raised $300 to provide free HIV testing for students on campus during AIDS week. We don’t plan to slow down anytime soon. Currently in the works is the planning of the first annual Midwest QPOC conference.
I won’t pretend that leading an organization like this doesn’t take lots of time and energy, sometimes more than I have to give. But as stressed as I am in the days, weeks, and sometimes months leading up to an event, I love doing what I can to make things happen. Being part of this group has shown me there really are lots of opportunities at Grinnell to do the things you want to do. The resources are there, the support is there, and even though I have to sacrifice a lot of my sewing time and some of my naps, I am grateful that QPOC has been able to grow and provide a niche for me and for others.
Lindsay Robinson '09 is a Sociology major from St. Louis, Missouri.