Harris Erickson, a sophomore theater student at VCU, wanted to improve the LGBTQIA + community during COVID-19 and worked with others on campus to put on a series of drag shows at Monroe Park. Called Time Warp, the student-led drag show drew audiences from across Virginia Commonwealth University and Richmond.
“When I started dating a year ago, which was inspired by the worship of the art form, it took years,” Erickson said. “The vision was never centered on the character who would be my own dragster character, but on a catalysis, on a collective of being queer.”
Erickson, another student and two VCU faculty members were honored Thursday at
16th Annual Burnside Watstein LGBTQIA Awards. The awards were created by Equality VCU at a time when the contributions of the LGBTQIA + community and its allies were often overlooked. They were named in honor of Chris Burnside and Sarah Watstein, former Co-Chairs of Equality VCU and outspoken voices for diversity and inclusiveness.
“Time Warp celebrates the tenacity of drag performers, especially those who are seasoned hobbyists, participating as king, queen, or in between in what we’ve called our student drag show,” Erickson said.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said awards like Burnside Watstein are important because they recognize people who do valuable work at the university.
“They are an amazing group of human beings who are dedicated to making our university community, and truly the world, a truly more inclusive, better, fairer, kind and welcoming place for everyone,” said Rao. “We are living in a very pivotal time, and while we see a lot of people embracing all of humanity, there are some who are not. We will all need to be sure that we are exercising our right to speak out in favor of embracing all human beings.
I went to graduate school to do work that benefits our community and being able to do that work here at VCU has been an amazing experience because of all the support we have for LGBTQIA + initiatives on campus.
Award winner Lane B. Carasik, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, is the College of Engineering’s first openly queer professor and has worked to create an environment where LGBTQIA + students feel at home. comfortable studying engineering. Carasik runs office hours that have become a place for openly queer engineering students to come together and build community.
Carasik is proud to have positively impacted the LGBTQIA + community at VCU. The environment is very different from where Carasik was a student.
“When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, there wasn’t a very strong queer community for undergraduates and graduate students,” Carasik said. “I couldn’t have done anything without my colleagues who paved the way for me.”
Eli Coston, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, received the Burnside Watstein Prize for Promoting Inclusion, Equity and Social Justice for LGBTQIA + people in VCU and Richmond. Colston works to reduce police harassment of members of the LGBTQIA + community. Coston has testified in legislative hearings on LGBTQIA + hate crimes issues and used his platform to speak to mainstream media.
“I went to graduate school to do work that benefits our community and being able to do this work here at VCU has been an amazing experience because of all the support we have for LGBTQIA + initiatives on campus,” Coston said.
The connections Coston made to VCU and through Richmond enabled them to do social justice work. Coston looks forward to what can be accomplished in the future and was thrilled to see so many professors at VCU address LGBTQIA + issues.
The other honored student, Brenae Flournoy, a senior graphic design student at the School of Arts, is an advocate for people of color and the LGBTQIA + community at VCU. Much effort has focused on his art, which gives voice to marginalized groups.
“It’s amazing to be recognized for who you are and for something simple and taken for granted, for a part of who I am,” said Flournoy.
Jonathan Molina-Garcia, Assistant Professor of Photography and Digital Futures at the School of the Arts, gave the opening speech at the awards ceremony. Molina-Garcia focused on the use of the word ‘them’ and how it makes sense of the LGBTQIA + community.
Molina-Garcia frames their work with a kind of intensity and passion. The life of a queer person in the southern United States can be difficult and difficult to find an identity, Molina-Garcia said. The journey can be winding and strewn with pitfalls.
“It is the passionate intensity that drives endless becoming and achievement,” said Molina-Garcia.
Queerness is an “evolutionary and movable scale of limits”. He is limited by the “other” in a person and is always working towards potentiality, Molina-Garcia said. “When I heard someone use the pronoun ‘them’ to refer to me for the first time, I felt (the potential) then. “
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