Starting today and running through Saturday, October 4, UCA's College of Fine Arts and Communication (CFAC) will present a series of events meant to recognize and celebrate LGBT culture. You may or may not realize that October is designated as National Diversity Awareness Month; and on my campus we have an Office of Diversity and Community which each year around this time plans a few events to recognize LGBT culture and history. This year CFAC just decided to up the ante. It started with the Writing Department deciding to invite to campus two authors, Bernard Cooper (pictured left) and Jericho Brown (pictured immediately below), who happen to be gay men. From there we took the idea to CFAC--which foots the bill for all artists in residence--to bring Brown and Cooper to campus during the same week and create an LGBT weeklong festival.
And from there everything fell into place. I mentioned some of the events in my post last week. In addition to readings by Cooper and Brown, there will be a talk given by John Schenk and Robert Loyd (pictured below), warriors in the cause of gay marriage in Arkansas and founders of the Conway Pride Parade; a lecture by Dr. Raymond Frontain on the Arkansas-born writer Peter McGehee; a weeklong exhibition of a segment of the AIDS Memorial Quilt; a miniature film festival featuring the LGBT documentaries Paris is Burning (1990) and The New Black (2013); a reading presented by PRISM, our LGBTQA student organization; and a reading presented by Sibling Rivalry Press, a publishing house located just outside Little Rock that does so much to promote gay and lesbian writers. Click here for a detailed schedule of festival events sponsored by UCA's College of Fine Arts and Communication.
Of course a festival, any festival, especially a new one, needs promoting. And some of the reactions have been curious if not disheartening. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of students, and not just our LGBT students, who are happy for this festival, students who feel it's more than overdue. Others see it as no big deal, a "So what?" But at the same time, I'm surprised at the extent to which the local media regards the idea of an LGBT festival as something radical, advant-garde, even dangerous. It is? I guess I'm naive--and I guess I'm not from around here--but that reaction strikes me as a little drastic. After all, the idea of celebrating LGBT history during National Diversity Awareness Month has been around for years. Neither UCA nor the CFAC invented it. But to listen to local reactions, you'd think the president of my university woke up one morning and just decided to "give" LGBT people a month. (I can guarantee you that he had nothing to do with it.) Literally within hours of a press release going out from CFAC about the festival, I was called by a Little Rock television station. They wanted to come to campus, film me, film our students, and discuss this "controversy." Days later a second Little Rock television came to campus to do the same. The resulting story they broadcast was fine, but I was both shocked and amused to hear the comments of one older gentleman they found who declared he could not support UCA's funding "public acts of unchastity." Unchastity? These are poetry and fiction readings; lectures by community organizers and professors of English literature. This is a quilt! Where exactly does the unchastity come in? From his biased brain and its inherited stereotypes; that's where.
And since I've been promoting the festival and talking to others about it, I've heard equally disheartening stories: a student worker afraid to install posters around campus advertising the festival for fear she will be labeled as gay; an email from an angry local citizen who insists that LGBT people don't deserve a history month "any more than black people do"; anecdotes about how, even now, even in the second decade of the twenty-first century, gay, lesbian, and trans teenagers are chased away from churches, illegally discriminated against in the regional school systems, expelled from their homes by their parents and left to live on the streets. Parents who have somehow convinced
themselves--who are allowed to convince themselves by their own toxic support systems--that they are acting righteously. Righteously? I'm a parent, and I can't imagine more inhumane, unnatural, and ungodly behavior than to toss my child into the streets and all that awaits him there. I can't imagine a greater violation of the parental bond or of simple human decency. Both for my wife and I--and I think for most parents--such behavior is literally unthinkable. That it still goes on in Arkansas and elsewhere is even more unthinkable. Thus the need, apprently, for this festival at UCA. And another. And another. And another. Until our collective humanity can overhwelm the madness.
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LAST CHANCE FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! Since I've started the Goodreads Giveaway contest for my short story collection Island Fog, over 430 people have signed up for it. I'm thrilled. Well, we are almost at the end of the giveaway. Wednesday, October 1 will be the very last day to enter. On Thursday October 2, the contest will be over, and Goodreads will tell me who won. You can always purchase the book (see late-breaking news below), but why not enter the giveaway contest while you still have the chance? Just click on this link. Good luck!!
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THE BOOK IS OUT!!! Just found out from my publisher, Lavender Ink, that
Island Fog is now available for purchase in paperback on Amazon. You can also order it through Lavender Ink's website, lavenderink.org. If you're a fan of e-readers, don't fret. A Kindle version is forthcoming in a few weeks. For readers in the UK, it should be available very soon on Amazon.co.uk.