Staceyann Chin addresses diversity, acceptance, love at Pride Lecture
Artist, poet and political activist Staceyann Chin delivered a message of diversity, acceptance and love at the 11th Annual Pride Lecture at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Chin is widely known for her work as an out poet and political activist. She has spoken candidly about her experience growing up in Jamaica, and the effects of coming out there. She has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, co-written and performed in the Tony Award-winning Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam on Broadway, and received rousing praises around the world for her poetry.
Rather than lecturing, Chin engaged the audience in an evening of honest exchange in an informal storytelling format that was often laced with expletives. She talked about being a woman, lesbian, Jamaican and mother. She interjected poetry, anecdotes and life experiences to show that she is human, just like everyone else in the room.
“Everything I say comes from somewhere in my experience,” Chin said.
Chin moved to the United States because it was illegal to be a lesbian in Jamaica. She talked about her early days in New York. Using her five-year-old daughter as an example, Chin talked about the labels and how children do not recognize labels.
“She just knows that everybody in the world has the choice to choose whatever sweetheart they want,” Chin said. “So it’s not that we tell her this person chooses men and this person chooses women. I tell her every day, you have the option to choose whatever one you want on whatever day you choose. And under that definition, under that conversation, all of a sudden everyone’s LGBTQI.”
Because for Chin, LGBTQI is not an identity.
“Human is Human. I would like the rights that I rally for within the LGBTQI community to be the rights afforded to every person on the planet. Where the choice becomes irrelevant and the freedom becomes the rule.”
Chin said she is not judgmental about what people do.
“I keep moving through the terrain of America hoping there is a (expletive) utopia somewhere. I’m not sure. But I’m hopeful. We can’t really drown in the sorrow and the despair.”
After Chin veered away from her speech with musings and more conversation, she brought herself back and read from her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise. The passage was from her childhood. Her mother had abandoned her and her father was not present. Her grandmother cared for her until she could no longer do so, and Chin went to live with an aunt and her dysfunctional family.
It was in this home that Chin was sexually violated by her cousin. Chin retaliated by stabbing him in the hand with a pencil. He was 20 and she was nine. Chin said the incident threw the household into chaos, less by the incident itself but by her response.
“Everyone knew about the incident but never talked about it,” Chin mused. Now that she’s older, Chin said she has a little more understanding for the situation her aunt was in.
“This is the world she inherited and no one quite knew what to do. It was a very difficult time for me. And I still have such a hard time understanding how I survived such a thing.”
Chin transitioned into discussion about recent mass shootings and violence in the United States. She read one of her poems written to show solidarity for the victims of the Orlando shootings. The poem began with her arrival to New York City in 1997:
“I remember landing uncertain in a small town called New York City. Within weeks I fell into the arms of other feminists and activists of the LGBT people who believed in a global fight for freedom. It was here, in this country, that I learned to use my words, my voice, to speak out against bigotry and prejudice and injustice and discrimination wherever it happens, whenever it happens, to whoever it happens.”
Chin discussed changes over the last 20 years – LGBT people in more countries can marry and love the person of their choosing, can openly hold office, can have children and be more secure in jobs. Yet in light of the progress, recent incidents have shaken the LGBT community.
“We were sure the world we had created would eventually triumph over the right wing,” Chin said. “We were shaken from our complacency.”
The deaths will always be senseless, Chin said. But still she asked, “How do we make sense of a senseless thing?”
“One, we pick up the pieces of each other. Keep holding onto each other. If there’s ever a year to celebrate pride, this is a good year to do it. Courage is the cornerstone of progress. Find your rainbow, freedom flag, to live for who you are. Let us fight for spaces where all our bodies are. Shout out the power of being human. Living loudly is choosing love.”
As Chin’s presentation came to a close, she left the audience with these words – “What does not kill us, will only make us stronger.”
Sponsors of this year’s Pride Lecture included: Terry Anderson and Michael Henry; Bishop-McCann; Burns & McDonnell; DST Systems; Kevin Dunn and Bob Legler; Hallmark Cards, Inc.; Hollyday Med Spa and Aesthetics; Jason Holmes and Kevin Westrope; Mary Kay McPhee; Kansas City CARE Clinic; KCUR 89.3; Kutak Rock LLP; Husch Blackwell LLP; Kathleen Kunkler and Peggy Lowe; Dennis and Susan Lordi Marker; Martha Jane Phillips Starr Field of Interest Fund at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; Metzler Mentoring Program; Morgan Stanley; Art and Susan Perry; Show-Me Presentation Resources; Blaine Proctor; Robert and Elise Chapline Family Fund; James Rodewald and Michael Siemer; Shook, Hardy and Bacon LLP; Michael Sigler, Francis Family Foundation Discretionary Fund; St. Luke’s Health System, Diversity and Inclusion Council; Alexandra J. Strong, M.D.; and Brenda J. Hafner.
Since 2007, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion Pride Lecture Series has brought LGBTQIA thought leaders from across the country and globe including Janaya Khan, Lea DeLaria, Dustin Lance Black, Laverne Cox and Ari Shapiro. To learn more about the Pride Lecture Series and to register, visit UMKC Pride.
UMKC is committed to practicing sensitivity toward students of all backgrounds and cultures. It is our goal to create an environment in which better understanding of LGBTQIA social justice issues can take place. That is one of many reasons why we implement educational initiatives like the Pride Lecture on campus. Another reason is to enrich the learning and living experiences for all of our students. We want all people to know, and feel like, they are a part of our university community.
UMKC’s LGBTQIA Programs and Services Office works to provide support and resources for our students to become full members of our campus community, and the communities in which they live. The office provides safe space training, crisis support, campus guides, and exclusive scholarship and student involvement opportunities. Those resources also educate the broader community on LGBT social justice issues by sharing information regarding campus policies, accurate pronouns and definitions, and more.