This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Smashing History keynote speaker Urvashi Vaid '79. Photos © Vassar College / John Abbott.

Smashing History: LGBTIQA Inspiration

In November, Vassar held the conference “Smashing History: 150 Years of LGBTIQA Vassar” to celebrate Vassar alumnae/i who have distinguished themselves in service to LGBTIQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, and allies) communities. Conference organizers sought to inspire and encourage the latest generation of LGBTIQA students to make a difference in their communities. Held in conjunction with Vassar’s ongoing Sesquicentennial celebration, the three-day event featured panels and lectures with alumnae/i and student presenters, workshops, exhibits, and performances.

Community organizer and attorney Urvashi Vaid ’79, a leader in the LGBTIQA and social justice movements, delivered the keynote address. She began by giving credit to Vassar, saying that as a student she learned how to organize, run organizations, and manage personality conflicts—skills that served her well during nearly three decades of activism.

During her address, Vaid encouraged a broader view of the LGBTIQA movement’s agenda. She acknowledged the importance of “equality”—having the same rights that other families have (the legal benefits of marriage, for example)—but she also urged those in the movement to work toward “liberty.” Liberty, she said, encompasses a wider swath of human creativity, self-expression, and well being. It includes freedom of reproductive choice, freedom of gender and sexual expression, and the “opportunity for all people to achieve economic security and racial equity.” Continuing inequalities in power within the LGBTIQA community, she noted, puts the movement’s triumphs in perspective; there is still a way to go before winning freedom for everyone in the community “to love and live as they wish” without repression or prejudice.

Panelists presented topics as diverse as gender nonconformity, LGBTIQA representation in the Vassar Archives, poverty in the community, and sex education. Conference participants also attended an AIDS memorial service to remember those who have died and to rededicate the AIDS Plaque in the Villard Room. During the ceremony, students read passages on mourning and resistance, pastor Joseph Tolton ’89 led a meditation, and the Night Owls serenaded all.

The critically acclaimed performer Daniel Alexander Jones ’91 provided entertainment, presenting “An Evening with Jomama Jones” based on his engaging character the New York Times described as a “sultry Amazon” who “prowls the stage on killer legs that extend forever out of death-defying heels.” “Jomama Jones” performed hard-driving songs interlaced with philosophical stories, leaving the audience dancing in the aisles of the Chapel.

In addition, photographer Mariette Pathy Allen ’62 displayed a portfolio titled “Transformations” at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center for the duration of the conference.  The photos, which capture “crossdressers and those who love them,” are a recent gift to Vassar.

“Smashing History” was supported by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty along with a multitude of campus groups. It was organized by a group of faculty and staff members and students: Diane Harriford (Women’s Studies and Africana Studies), Gretchen Lieb (Library), Steve Lavoie ’07 (Campus Life), Lydia Murdoch ’92 (Women’s Studies), Hiram Perez (English), Jeremy Garza ’14, Cassidy Hollinger ’13,  and Gus Meuschke ’12.

– Elizabeth Randolph

Smashing History

Photos, clockwise from top left: Conference organizers (front row, from L to R) Steve Lavoie, Gretchen Lieb, and Diane Harriford; (back row) Gus Meuschke '12, Hiram Perez, Jeremy Garza ’14, Cassidy Hollinger ’13, and Lydia Murdoch. Daniel Alexander Jones ’91 as "Jomama Jones." Ron Patkus of Vassar's Archives and Special Collections with Elizabeth Bishop scholar and Professor Emeritus of English Barbara Page. She spoke about the preservation of LGBTIQA history during the session "Out of the Archives."  "Jomama Jones" photo © Vassar College-Cesar Cervantes '14

December 2011

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