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The Umbrella Term “Queer”: Restrictive Or Liberating?

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Source: Gaelx

This past pride month, no matter where you were, you most certainly came across the term “queer.”

It seems like every company and drugstore from New York to Omaha is sporting rainbow colors, and there’s a parade somewhere every weekend. But what does “queer” really mean?

Queer has been embraced by the LGBTQ community as an umbrella term for any and all identities that encompasses and formerly used as a derogatory term used against mostly effeminate men.

However, the broad nature of the term creates both friction within the community, as well as a chance for others who don’t feel they belong to a more specific community—one of the letters in LGBTQ—to give a name to their identity.

Source: Japrea

“Over the years of using various terms to describe myself, I found that there is not just one to fully encapsulate the fluidity of my being other than the umbrella term of ‘queer.’”

Savy, 22 and living in Brooklyn, has come to identify as queer, after searching herself for the right word to describe her sexuality.

“‘Queer’ has held this negative connotation for most of my life, so I avoided the use of it among friends and family as much as I could. In a setting of initial judgement and skepticism, it has proven to be less useful, but after moving to New York, it has been a relief to not have to explain those things and just simply say ‘I’m queer,’” Savy continues.

Yet, umbrella terms, by their nature, can also present problems within the community as well as outside. There is no monolithic “queerness,” as one new to LGBTQ vocabulary might think.

To belong to the queer community, one needs only to feel they identify that way. This raises the question: if everyone can be queer, is anyone really queer?

“Like plenty of the names marginalized people call themselves, queer has a fraught history of reclamation, many controversial political implications, and a universalizing aspect that is too contradictory for some,” Hari Ziyad writes.

Many members of queers community have felt at times liberated by the word and at times confused and afraid that they are not queer “enough.” Additionally, the word queer, as it is used now, is rooted deeply in Western perceptions of gender and sexuality, perceptions which are not always shared by other cultures.

Saoirse, 20, explains, “I have experienced cases of being labelled as “not queer enough” which reflects the varying definitions of the word, even within Western culture and that takes away from it as a useful classifier if it is used by different people to mean different things.

I have found it to be problematic, particularly when used in non-Western contexts as other societies have different constructions of gender and sexuality, and language from the West can problematize the situation.”

“Queer” might be the closest thing the LGBTQ community has to no label at all. However, it is still a label. Many people who identify as queer do so because they simply know that they are not straight.

“I choose to identify as queer because I realize that my identity does not necessarily fit into what the society considers “normal,” and the word “queer” with its etymological meaning of “strange” encapsulates the fact that how I choose to identify it is at odds with what society tells me I should identify as,” Saorise notes.

More people identify as queer now than ever before. Awareness around queer identities has risen considerably as a result of many celebrities coming out as queer—including Miley Cyrus and Amandla Stenberg—and discussing their experiences with self-identification.

There are still debates as to what is the most precise and encompassing term to use for the queer community, and whether “queer” itself has completely thrown its history as a demeaning term. But for many, being able to identify as “queer” has been a source of joy and liberation.

Source: Ted Eytan

Qixuan Wang, 24, says her favorite thing about being queer is:

“No matter you are Lesbian, Gay, questioning, non-binary, bisexuals, transgender people, etc. We are all queer and we are in one community. I love the sense of NO LABELS.”

By: Emily Odion

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Young Man with Autism Opens his Own Coffee Shop After Being Denied Employment

Sydney Murphy

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Michael Coyne, despite being on the autism spectrum, shows everybody should have equal opportunity by opening his own coffee shop and has brought people together through community engagement.
Source: Red White & Brew Coffeehouse | Facebook

Michael Coyne, a Special Olympics Athlete, is living with Autism, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

He is already living a challenging life, and when faced with each challenge, he has used his passion and positive attitude to push him forward.

Though he was determined to get a job as he turned the age of 21, Coyne was met with many denials. He soon used the constant rejection as motivation to make an opportunity for himself no matter what negativity he was faced with.  

“After I turned 21, I applied to multiple places. None of them would hire me,” said Coyne.

Post-graduation, Coyne and Sheila worked together in starting up a privately owned coffee shop. The shop was friendly and welcoming to all people, no matter their ability. 

With the inclusive coffee shop, Coyne proved that discrimination was unacceptable and is continuing to respectfully fight the unfair business world. The coffee shop serves locally-roasted coffee and pastries. 

The name of the coffee shop is Red, White, & Brew. Nearby businesses are partnering with the coffee shop because of the unbelievable acceptance the shop shows for all people. 

“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities,” said Coyne. 

A nearby craft store called, Budding Violet, sells homemade products made by artists with disabilities and is also advocating for the impact these welcoming businesses are having on the community.

A few of the artists are Coyne’s peers and play an essential role in his motivation and successful community engagement. 

“We’ve had parents come in with tears in their eyes with the hope that their young children will eventually be accepted into the community,” said Sheila.

Coyne will continue to grow his business and is hoping to someday hire people with and without disabilities to bring all walks of life together in one business to work together.

He hopes to open the doors for other disabled individuals who may also be struggling to find employment.  

“What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides. We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing. And he’s out in the community getting his social skills,” said Shiela. 

Shiela is very proud of Coyne as he takes steps in creating a better world for himself and his peers. The Red, White, & Brew Coffeehouse has received tons of support through it’s Facebook page and hopes to use social media as a tool to spread awareness of Coyne’s inspiring achievements.

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A Look at the Most Famous Queer Art Form and What it Means to a Small Town Drag Queen

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Source: Jhderojas| Flickr

A Brief History of Drag:

LGBTQ+ History Month is a pivotal moment to look back on one of the most prominent forms of queer art and expression – drag queen history.

Both drag queens and kings have had their narratives woven into the grander history of the LGBTQ community. However, its beginnings were not what you may expect.

Theatrical Beginnings

Drag first found its home in the theatre. Pre-Shakespearean era theatre used men in drag for the female acting parts. This was surprisingly due to religious reasons. It was seen as a religious right that only men were allowed to act in plays. This is quite ironic given the context drag is often seen in now.

However, it was during Shakespearean era theatre, where only men were allowed on stage, that the term “drag” is believed to have come from. This is rumored to be because the male actors would always comment on how their dresses would drag across the stage.

An Intimate Vaudeville Setting

Until the Vaudeville era, drag was strictly apart of group performances such as plays. Once Vaudeville performance gained popularity, drag became a much more intimate art form.

Men found themselves impersonating women alone on stage and in a way that allowed them to mix comedy, music, and dance.

It was during this time that we saw one of the first famous drag queens come to light – Julian Eltinge.

Eltinge found popularity in Vaudeville that would earn him success that surpassed the giants of this era, such as Charlie Chaplin. Eltinge and the drag queens of his time undoubtedly prove that drag has been visibly woven into queer culture for some time now.

Despite the success seen during this time, prohibition brought a challenge for drag queens of the time. It was hard to find venues that really showcased the atmosphere they wanted, so many gay men and drag queens alike used speakeasies to entertain and be entertained.

The Broader Culture

Naturally, even if drag queens were flourishing in the underground queer community, the majority of society was not welcoming.

During prohibition, queer culture was a crime and police often cracked down on gay speakeasies and underground bars.

It was bad enough that serving alcohol was illegal, but the fact that queer folk couldn’t dance together legally didn’t help the situation. Years passed, and while alcohol became legal once again, being queer in any sense was still very much crime.

The community was not without allies, even back then. The New York Mafia often gave drag queens and the queer community as a whole various outlets to express themselves.

Specifically, the Genovese played a large part in what would, unknowingly at the time, become a huge part of the community’s history.

Stonewall and the New York Scene

The Genovese family purchased the Stonewall in 1966. This spot would become a hub for queer culture in New York City. This would also be home to the 1969 Stonewall riots and the beginning of the gay rights movement.

At the forefront of this movement was transgender women and drag queens. This is often an overlooked piece of history, and arguably one of the most important things to remember.

One drag queen who found herself front and center during this movement was Flawless Sabrina. She organized drag queen pageants that presented drag beauty in the same respect as traditional pageants presented cisgender female beauty.

Flawless Sabrina, like many of those who took part in this movement, was arrested several times over and was also brave enough to dress in drag and appear in public and on talk shows.

Over in Harlem and Washington Heights during the early 1970s, ballroom culture was blooming. Started specifically by queer people of color, the drag scene was beginning to adapt to a new form of expression.

Drag “balls” were where “houses” or groups of queer folk would compete to be the best at their art form. A mix of fashion, dancing, and cutting edge gender expression found itself on the floor of every ball.

Becoming Mainstream

Shortly after the ballroom culture found its way into the queer culture, drag culture began to weave itself into the broader culture of the United States. Drag and gender-bending performances exploded—from the likes of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, to the fashion of David Bowie and Boy George, and even beyond.

It’s important to note that these white men could’ve only used this for their art forms because of the oppressed queer people that came before them, and notably queer people of color.

With the popularization of drag, the world became ready for the now ultra-famous RuPaul Charles. Charles found fame beginning in the 1990s amidst the New York City club scene. He skyrocketed into stardom with his 1993 hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.

He soon became the first drag queen to become a spokesperson for a major cosmetics company, get their own talk show, and even a morning radio show.

Since his early days of fame, Charles has launched his drag competition series, Rupaul’s Drag Race, which is also premiering in Canada and the United Kingdom now. The show, and many of the queens who have been a part of the show, have become worldwide phenomenons.

RuPaul and drag culture are prime examples that marginalized communities can be uplifted with the right media presence.

The Significance of Drag History to a Small Town Drag Queen

With a clear past of ups and downs, drag is undeniably an important art form in the queer community. This brings us to today, to State College: the small town surrounding the famous Penn State University. Named one of the most LGBTQ friendly universities in the country, Penn State has a small yet thriving drag community. A part of this community is Marceline.

Marceline, aka Marco Planchart, is a transgender man who is just starting out in the drag scene at Penn State.

“I got into drag because I had friends that encouraged me to do it,” said Planchart.

With experience in cosplay, Planchart found the transition to drag very easy. This, paired with years of dance experience, he found himself combining the two and finding himself comfortably transitioning into the drag scene.

Beyond being a drag queen and a member of the queer community, Planchart is also a student intern at the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at Penn State, where he aids the office in educated students on all things related to the LGBTQ Community.

During this LGBTQ History Month, Planchart made it very clear that his identity as a drag queen is significant to the rich history queer folk.

“I think it’s very important to recognize drag queens and kings during LGBTQ+ history month because of how prevalent they were in queer history.

Many queens and kings were a part of the queer community already and saw it as a way to have an amazing experience for themselves.

Plus, just looking back on major moments in queer history like Stonewall, they were on the front lines as much as any identity. I would talk to Freddy or some people from Opulence to talk about how important they are, and how important especially the [people of color] drag queens and kings were in shaping a lot of queer cultures today.”

By: Madison Star

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Jonathan Van Ness Speaks Out about Living with HIV, Highlights the Importance of Getting Tested

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Source: IG: jvn

            Reality TV star, queer rights advocate, and hair guru, Jonathan Van Ness, has come out recently, but most certainly not out of the closet.

In recent weeks, Jonathan Van Ness, made famous by the Netflix hit series “Queer Eye”, has released several statements surrounding their life with HIV, being an addict, and being sexually abused.

Ness’ decision to come out revolves around the release of their book “Over the Top”. Their book, which came out just last week, recounts several stories surrounding these aspects of their life.

“It’s hard for me to be as open as I want to be when there are certain things I haven’t shared publicly,” Van Ness stated in an interview.

            The interview, as well as the novel, shows a much more serious side of Van Ness that fans and media are not used to seeing. They discuss several traumatic experiences, such as being abused in Church as a child, deep-rooted self-esteem issues, drug use that would become an addiction, to now living with HIV.

             That the self-described “the effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen” would share such personal news came as a shock to everyone. In an interview with CNN, Van Ness explains why they chose to do so before the book’s release.

            “Part of it is that I wanted to heal. And the other part of it is that, you know, living publicly and experiencing the success of ‘Queer Eye’ and experiencing this platform,” said Van Ness.

“We don’t grow when we are comfortable and I have had a lot of time to grow comfortable with my HIV status. I’ve had a long time to process and heal from the abuse that I endured in my life and I am ready to share it now.”

            Not long after this interview, Van Ness teamed up with Planned Parenthood to create a video on the importance of getting tested for STIs, and why protecting access to STI testing under Title X is vital. This partnership was inspired by the fact that Van Ness got their diagnosis at a Planned Parenthood.

            While Van Ness does have the type of fame that could draw attention to an issue such as this, many stereotypes and false claims about HIV out there do occur. Van Ness defies one of the most important ones to debunk: you can’t live a happy life with HIV.

            There is no denying that everyone’s favorite hair guru has been through a hard life, he is lively and glowing. HIV is no longer the death sentence like it was in the 80s.

There are medications and treatments that can increase the lifespan and quality of life for somebody with an HIV diagnosis. You can very much keep up your everyday life with some minor adjustments.

There is a lot of misunderstandings about how HIV and AIDS get transmitted from person to person. You can’t pass either through kissing, hugging, sharing food, insect bites, toilet seats, sneezing and/or coughing, or sweating.

You can only get it from passing bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucous, and breastmilk from person to another. Ways these bodily fluids can be passed from one person to another is through unprotected sex, through childbirth and breastfeeding (from mother to child, injecting drugs with needles that have the blood of a person with HIV or AIDS on it, and blood donations that are infected.

            The final misconception is the most important piece of information, not only to Van Ness’ story but to anyone living with HIV or AIDS. The two are different. People with HIV are not living with AIDS, though it could one day grow to that. There are three stages of HIV: Acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, and AIDS.

            Acute HIV infection has several symptoms that can be attributed to many things. These symptoms include headache, fatigue, aching muscles, sore throat, and a red rash that doesn’t itch.

If you have symptoms like these, it’s possible that you’ve been exposed to somebody with HIV in the past six weeks. If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to go to a doctor and get tested.

            Chronic HIV infection brings on a different experience. Once you enter this stage, this flu-like symptoms of acute HIV infection leave, and you will go through an asymptomatic stage that can last up to ten years.

It is pivotal in this stage to start taking medication, and as early on as possible. Without treatment, you become vulnerable to other infections.

AIDS is the final stage. Symptoms at this stage, if not medicated, and without a proactive lifestyle change in a previous stage, can include: swollen lymph nodes, a fever that lasts more than ten days, purple spots that don’t go away, and unexplained weight loss.

Without medication, a person at this stage can only live up to three years. The most important thing to remember about this stage is that with treatment you can live a long and happy life.

By: Madison Danielle Starr

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