Poet Highlights LGBT Issues Through Poetry, Documentary

By Sarah Wallace

The band King Median, composed of Kalamazoo students, introduced the poet Natasha Miller to Kalamazoo College’s Recital Hall last Friday at 7:30 pm. They were expected to play one or two songs, but entertained the audience further due to Miller’s traffic delay. Though Miller’s entrance was setback, it was worth the wait.

Poet Natasha Miller was brought to campus by the Conscious Communication and Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Houses in their aim to promote healthy discussion amongst people of all sexual orientations, race, and other backgrounds. The event included a 20-minute preview of the documentary she is currently directing called TransParent.

Miller’s documentary focuses on the story of transgender teenager Shelley Hilliard, born as Henry, who was murdered in Detroit in 2011, and was known to many people as “the person who walked realness for her house.”

The goal of her film is to bring attention to the transgender community, and their stories that often go untold. She chose to reflect on Hilliard’s story because she grew up in Detroit, and had a lot of access to the story.

“I was a part of the LGBT community and I knew what the ‘T’ stood for, but I didn’t know what was behind what it stood for, and now I do,” Miller said.

In the second part of the event, Miller performed spoken word poetry, which began her career seven years ago. The poems Miller recited reflected past personal experiences and pains, inspired by real-events like the murder of her brother, as well as mistreatment by her ex-girlfriend. They are “pain with a different face” as Miller said, transforming her pains into humor, though still powerful pieces of poetry.

The poems she recited included “If I Happen to Die Before my Mother,” “Halloween Suggestions for your Ex-Lover,” and “The Other Black Man.”

By using film as her medium, Miller wanted to reach a larger audience to convey Shelley’s story. Though she is a director, she remains as a lover of the spoken word, and called it the “base for everything [she does].”


Seeing Red

Russia’s LGBT Laws Cause International Uproar

By Brandon Siedlaczek

Brandon Siedlaczek

Over the course of the past few months, Russia has taken center stage in news outlets worldwide, in response to the passing of anti-gay laws less than a year before the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The bill, signed by President Putin, prohibits propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. Since the signing of the bill into law, violence against LGBT individuals and groups in Russia has amplified, and the 2014 Winter Olympic games have become surrounded by controversy.

Since the passing of the bill into law last June, there has been an upsurge of homophobia in Russia. Bans have been placed on gay rights parades, protests, and demonstrations, and certain entities within Russia could be fined if it is deemed that they are promoting LGBT propaganda.

Foreigners within Russia who are classified to promote the so-called “nontraditional sexual relations” could have to face imprisonment and deportation from Russia. These laws have become extremely problematic and have restricted the rights of LGBT individuals in Russia.

Violent attacks against LGBT individuals and organizations have increased since the passing of the anti-gay law. In November 2013, a gay club in Moscow was attacked with harmful gas that was sprayed inside the club while constituents were inside. Fortunately, the gas could be filtered out of the club.

This attack was only one of a series of attacks where the club and its patrons had been targets. From the conflict that has arisen from the passing of the anti-gay laws, some influential figures have decided to seize the opportunity to promote the rights of LGBT individuals.

Emma Green-Tregaro, for example, a Swedish high jumper, created controversy in the fall of last year when she painted her nails rainbow in connection to the rainbow flag and to supporting the rights of LGBT individuals. She had been asked to remove the polish since making any sort of commercial or political statement during competition went directly against the code of conduct for athletes, even during qualifying rounds of competition.

Green-Tregaro’s action provoked controversy and discussion around the implications of the anti-gay laws for Olympic athletes competing in Russia.

It’s important  that we be aware of these issues so we can think more critically about how certain issues that occur globally can be addressed locally. So in connection to and in support of Emma Green-Tregaro, K’s Amnesty International group held a tabling event last week that allowed students to discuss the human rights issues occurring in Russia while painting their nails rainbow in support of LGBT rights.

These events are important for spreading awareness on human rights issues and developing a critical lens to view the policies that shape their society. The event, furthermore, sought to increase support for LGBT individuals everywhere. Amnesty International meets every Wednesday at 9:00 pm in Bissell Theater and is open to all K students and community members.

Local Gone Global: Jaime Grant’s LGBT Study Triggers Worldwide Interest

By Sarah Wallace, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Jamie Grant

Major shifts have occurred in the past three years concerning one of the most widespread movements on Kalamazoo College’s campus concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Now former Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL) Jaime Grant became one of the major contributors to its expansion.

The Arcus Center is devoted to funding and encouraging social justice work, including topics like LGBT rights. Jaime Grant’s research outside of her work as the director deals with equalizing the rights of LGBT people.

The study Grant had been working on in 2010 turned out to be the most comprehensive study of transgender people anywhere in the world. She had no idea of the widespread response of her work. “We really didn’t anticipate that it was going to be this big,” said Grant.

Published in 2011, Grant’s study titled “Injustice at Every Turn” surveyed LGBT people of several different races on their experiences of discrimination. The national study included 70 questions and included approximately 6500 LGBT people in America.

When discussing how her study changed the government’s relations with trans people, Grant said, “There really was no data on transgender people before this study, either the scope of it, or the size of the sample, so when it hit in February 2011, it had a huge response federally. For instance, Housing and Urban Development made it illegal to discriminate against trans people in public housing.”

After Grant’s research caught on worldwide, national foundations furthered their investments in her work with additional grants. Her initial plan had been to remain at K to continue working as the Executive Director of the Center as well as a travel schedule and presenting her findings.

Grant, however, did not expect that others would expect such a time commitment from the entire research team. In mid-July, Grant had to decide whether to turn her project over to someone else or focus on her work at the Arcus Center.

“We all came to the conclusion that [the project] is my work. It’s what brought me here. It’s what I draw on,” said Grant.

Grant compromised with the College; she decided that she will make room around her travel schedule to come back periodically to K and work as the Arcus Center’s Senior Advisor. Though she is no longer the Executive Director, she will still have a presence on campus.

Currently, Grant is in Washington D.C. but over the next few months she will be taking her research to places including China, Cuba, Thailand and South Africa.

The current Academic Director of the Arcus Center Lisa Brock worked previously with Grant in a co-leadership position and had this to say about Grant’s contribution to the ACSJL,

“This year, Jamie will be missed. She did a lot of work on establishing the Center, getting us up and running. She’s the founding Executive Director and a lot of the things she started will continue to be with us.”