In the first of three events in the Queering the Archive Series, activist and writer Darnell Moore will speak about his initiatives to identify the voices of queer people in the Newark area.
The idea for the Queering the Archive speaker series arose from one professor’s recognition of the institutional silencing of queer voices and his desire to insert these voices into our regular discourse. Assistant Professor of English and Women’s Studies Hiram Perez has established this program on a curricular and community level. This semester, he is teaching a class of the same name in the Women’s Studies Department that focuses on archival practices, and the extent to which queer voices do and do not exist within them. This program is an extension of this class, and is open to the entire Vassar community.
Perez was inspired by the event “Smashing History: 150 years of LGBTIQA history at Vassar” that took place during the Fall 2011 semester. While the event opened his eyes to issues of the documentation of queer voices, he found room to expand on its goals. “The event made me more aware of the difficulties particular to documenting histories of queer sexuality and gender non-conformity. It made me wish that we’d been able to initiate some kind of oral history project in conjunction with the conference,” Perez wrote in an emailed statement.
By inviting Moore to speak at Vassar, Perez hopes to engage the campus in a discussion about the visibility of queer experiences in both a curricular and community level. As a scholar who has worked at Rutgers University, a Visiting Scholar at NYU and Yale, a writer and editor at several news sources including The Feminist Wire and Huffington Post Gay Voices, and a community activist, Moore approaches his work in a varied way. Moore focuses on black Christian, feminist and queer thought and advocacy, with an emphasis on voices from Newark, N.J. For Perez, Moore’s work ought to influence Vassar’s own approach to fighting these issues. “It occurred to me that learning more about Darnell’s work in Newark could help us at Vassar begin to think about creating our own queer oral history project. His work in Newark models a community-engaged scholarship that Vassar might also adapt to the benefit of both the college and Poughkeepsie,” he explained.
Perez is referencing the Queer Newark Oral History Project, of which Moore is a co-chair. Seeing the lack of documentation of queer voices, Moore works with this program to collect voices from the Newark queer community. “The idea is to ensure that there is an accessible space for these narratives to be collected. It is a response to the Newark Queer community’s desire for their voices to be heard—their lives captured,” he said in an interview with the Rutgers University Center for Race and Ethnicity. According to its website, the project reaches out to and interviews a wide range of LGBTQ voices in Newark and archives them digitally and in a local archival facility. In addition, it collaborates with other political, educational and religious organizations, and mentors LGBT youth to help empower them to go on to higher education and career opportunities.
Moore is motivated by his own experiences, and how they relate to the larger institutions of oppression. He views his identity as multi-faceted, interacting with privilege and oppression in intersecting ways. “I am a black gay able-bodied masculine man from the city of Camden, New Jersey, which means that my experience in the world is impacted by structural oppressions like racism, heterosexism, and class elitism. But I am also aware of the ways that my maleness, masculine gender expression, and able-bodiedness provides me with certain privileges,” he explained in an emailed statement. Moore’s complex views on sexuality are also related to his connection to religion and theology. Before his involvement in activism, Moore trained to be a minister. However, fed up with the discrimination he encountered in this context, he found that his focus while preaching began to shift away from solely theology into social justice.
Moore is coming at an appropriate time, as he arrives the day before the Westboro Baptist Church plans to protest Vassar’s strong support of the LGBT community. The director of the LGBTQ center and the Women’s center on campus Judy Jarvis expressed her hope that Moore’s message and that of Do Something VC, the group organizing Vassar’s response to the Church, can be seen in conjunction. “Do Something VC plans to incorporate education and teach-ins about faith and sexuality. I hope this is something that is included on the schedule. Anytime we’re talking about oppression and suppression, it fits into Westboro Baptist Church rhetoric,” she explained. Moore applauded Vassar’s efforts to combat the Church. “I think that Vassar students have demonstrated how we can shift the focus off of hate groups and on platforms that really matter,” he said. Moore’s reception at Vassar will take place during Perez’s class time, though it is open to the entire campus. Perez reached out to Jarvis to coordinate and publicize the series on a campus-wide scale. Jarvis is incredibly enthusiastic about the potential for Moore’s visit to direct discourse on LGBTQ issues at Vassar. “It’s a chance for LGBT and its allies to come together and learn about our joint history and our ancestors,” she said.