FIU Panel Addresses Present and Future of Queer Studies

Panelist during the discussion. Diego Diaz / PantherNOW

Diego Diaz / Asst. News Director and Jesse Fraga / News Director

Seven LGBTQ+ FIU faculty members discussed the rises and downfalls of the queer climate. Some questioned if the university has done enough to protect the community, while others commended them.

The panel Rethinking the LGBTQ+ Agenda from Within: New Directions in Queer Studies on Thursday, Sept. 23 addressed ways to reshape queer alliances in academia within FIU, Miami-Dade County and Florida. 

“I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be able to hold this conversation at FIU, let us be real, this is not a conversation we often do here,” said moderator Phillip Carter, director of FIU’s Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment

The center collaborated with FIU’s School of Law, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab to highlight the intersections between their field of interest and queer studies.

Panelist Julio Capó is a transnational historian, award winning author and deputy director of the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, with research on LGBTQ+ and Latinx immigration.

“We need to understand how we’ve come to this term [queer], where we find ourselves and what it might mean to think about queer not from an identitarian lens, but one of politics,” said Capo.

Fellow panelist, Jose Gabilondo, associate dean for Accreditation and Reporting, continued detailing the political history of the queer community. He discussed the dismissal of queer politic during the rise of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

“It redrew the parameters of sexuality in a very cruel and horrible way, through the decimation of sex radicals and the creative class,” said Gabilondo. “And in a horrible way it allowed movements of the right to say, ‘ha, see it was better to stay in the closet because we didn’t die.’”

Erica Friedman, associate director of FIU’s Pride Center, critiqued a trend in scholars who solely focus on theoretical aspects of queer studies.

“I rejected the faculty researcher path for a reason,” said Friedman. “As much as I love theory… I want to put it into practice, I want to see it in action.” 

Martha Schoolman, associate professor of english at FIU, added how action was taken to strengthen an allyship between Israel and the U.S. She noted recent efforts made by A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ+ activist organization.

“Many I knew personally returned home from these trip with Islamaphobic and anti-Palestinian beliefs,” said Schoolman.

The discussion aimed to build connections between the local queer community and their allies. However, some speakers critiqued FIU’s silence on the recent anti-LGBTQ+ Florida legislature they considered repressive.

“Institutionally, I think FIU is constitutionally incapable of engaging in the kind of independent thinking that’s needed,” said Gabilondo. “I think FIU is desperate to signal virtues it doesn’t have.”

A record number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the U.S. was passed this year, such as an anti-trans sports bill passed in Florida on June 1, which banned transgender women from competing on women’s sports teams in public education institutions.

The university’s administration has yet to release a statement.

Gabilondo argued the university’s public school status causes the administration to abide by and support the state’s conservative legislature.

“I wouldn’t wait or trust an administrative initiative on any of these issues, and if anything I’d be really nervous about it,” said Gabilondo.

Carter invited audience members to discuss LGBTQ+ issues which directly impact FIU students.

“I love you guys, but… you’re all humanities. We need more people in power to come and represent us,” said Maria Londono, a senior studying psychology and women’s and gender studies at FIU.

Others nodded in agreement as Londono noted fields she believes lack queer representation, such as science, technology, engineering and math.

“I read that not as a criticism of the humanities, but as a criticism of STEM,” said Capo. “The need to queer the hell out of STEM.”

Shrage criticized the lack of communication between the humanities and STEM at FIU.

“[The College of Nursing and Health Sciences] are the ones that should be teaching about healthcare for LGBTQ individuals, and I don’t know if they are,” said Shrage. “They very well may be, but we need to make sure the LGBTQ cirriculum goes across the university.”

Panelists hinted at subjects of the community whose voices are often left out, such as sex workers.

“How is it that LGBTQ is in our knowledge but sex work isn’t,” said Carter.

Transgender employees in particular are often subject to discrimination in the workplace. Many rely on sex work for survival.

11 percent of transgender respondants from the most recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey said they participated in sex work in 2018. Additionally, 22 percent were paid less than their heterosexual and cisgender coworkers in 2017.

Florida is one of 49 states which prohibits prostitution and related crimes.

“I’m hoping the larger LGBTQ movement would get behind [sex worker’s rights],” said Shrage. “It’s time to get behind this agenda and support these efforts, because if we don’t, those who advocate for prohibition would get the most advances.”

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