LGBTQ Luminaries Interview Series

June 17, 2020

In honor of Pride month, The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine sat down with LGBTQ luminaries for a special interview series.  

Basil Soper (he/him/his) is a man of transgender experience, multi genre writer, photographer, and activist. His work includes commercial freelance writing, documentary, creative nonfiction, and poetry. He is the founder and creator of Transilient. Learn more about Basil here and here. 

What are some activities and practices that are helping you in this time?  

Well, I’m very creative and an introvert. I really like being alone for at least a few hours a day. It’s been nearly impossible to make that happen living with my partner during this, so I try to isolate a bit by drawing and listening to music. I also like taking my dog out for walks. I’ve been chatting with my friends too, which always helps, and I meditate when I can connect enough with my body to do so. I see a therapist virtually as well. Mostly though, I’ve just been trying to be forgiving with myself for not being super productive right now. 

What does community look like for you in these times of necessary social distancing and isolation?  

I’m in a group chat with my partner and a few of my best friends in the Southeast. We check in a lot and send each other memes. I’ve also been connecting people to resources virtually. A woman who recently came out as trans in Appalachia was fired from her job due to coming out and she reached out to me.  I’ve been checking in with her and her partner. I’ve been connecting them to organizations and grants that might help during this time. I’ve done the same for my team, from a project I created called Transilient down in Kentucky. When I see grants or even just come across something funny online, I send it their way. Mutual aid has been a big part of COVID and it’s always played a pivotal role in the survival of the trans community, so I try my best to be a part of that with what I have to offer right now.  

What are some of your memories of Pride?  

My first Pride event was in 2005 in Asbury Park, NJ. I spent a summer working in Atlantic City and the summer was just as wild as one might imagine. The Village People performed! That was a once in a lifetime event for me. It was also the first time as someone who came from South Carolina that I saw that many out LGBTQ folks in one place and I was still dealing with a lot of internalized phobias so I wasn’t as carefree as I would’ve liked. 

In 2011, I went to a Pride event in Asheville, North Carolina. In the South, many of the events happen in October to avoid the heat and are paired with National Coming Out Day. At that time, Asheville was still a somewhat diverse place, and it was the last time that I was a part of a large, close knit, LGBTQ community. I had started organizing a year earlier with a group I started called Just Us For All and it was so cool to see how many people wanted to get involved with LGBTQ advocacy. The weather was chilly, and I enjoyed wearing a sweater and running around with friends. 

In the Summer of 2015, I was interning in NYC at a global nonprofit organization that focused on political advocacy called ALL OUT. That pride weekend was insane because gay marriage had just become legal in the U.S. So many people were in New York and the energy felt so much lighter than it ever had before or since, really, in terms of being queer. I liked the Drag March a lot. Most of NYC Pride was too much for me, though. It was super garish, and everyone was really drunk. That, coupled with how many NYPD officers were present and praised by mostly white cis gay folks, felt surreal and unsettling.  

I had a nice time last year at Pride in Chicago with my girlfriend. It was the first time I walked around Pride with my shirt off, which is something I always wanted to do and never had done even though I had top surgery in 2013. 

What do you wish for LGBTQ people across the world this Pride Month? 

I think this is a critical time for all movement building. We’ve been forced to step back from the celebration phase of Pride. While I believe we deserve to be celebrated, I think all marginalized people are coming to a crossroads with the current political climate of so many countries globally. For me, the root of our inability to come together as varying parts of the LGBTQ acronym and other marginalized communities is a lot of trauma.  

My hope for Pride Month, as things with the coronavirus hopefully dissipate, is that we take this time to heal from so many wounds. What sucks about healing from trauma, but also makes you stronger, is that you have to do work because someone else or society at large, has harmed you.   

More than anything I want to see LGBTQ folks across the globe healthy, happy, and not suffering. There’s nothing harder than to see our community members suffering at the hands of one another or their own.  

Please share some achievements and moments in your life that you are proud of: 

I am a first-generation high school graduate who ran away from an impoverished and abusive home in the Southeast at age 16. I am also a man of trans experience. I am proud of just surviving that. I’m honored to have gone to therapy for as long as I have. In 2010, I started organizing around LGBTQ issues in Western North Carolina and I went to community college there. Around this time, I practiced my writing more and pushed some of my work out locally. I created a national traveling trans-led multimedia project called Transilient which was successful and a wonderful learning experience. The project received numerous grants and partnered with groups like NCTE, It Gets Better and PFLAG. I’ve had my personal essay and op-ed work published in places such as Harper’s Bazaar, INTO, Refinery 29, Pride, and more.  

In 2018, I graduated from The New School in NYC with a bachelor’s in Creative Writing. My most recent accomplishment is that I have been accepted into a Master of Art program at NYU with a full-ride scholarship. I start classes this Fall and plan to work on a documentary. 

What words (of advice, wisdom, encouragement, etc.) do you have for young queer and trans folks? 

First, know that young people have very little to no agency especially depending on what region of a country or area of the world they’re in.  It’s incredibly frustrating and unfair. So, if you just get past 18, things really do get so much better after that. I don’t mean the world’s attitude changes, and clearly our communities face numerous issues lifelong; but just being able to have autonomy in experimenting with who you are, what you need, and want in life is such a relief.  

My advice is to get as much autonomy as you can as early as you can. If that means working or applying to schools out of the city of your family, do it. Also, you don’t owe anybody anything. It’ll be challenging but don’t let anyone ever make you feel guilty for being yourself. If they can’t handle you, that’s on them. Freeing yourself of conditional love can be really challenging and scary at first, but it is so much better for you in the end. You’ll find people who love you. 

 

 

Kristina Tendilla (she/they) has been a lifelong Filipinx organizer and community worker and is currently the Executive Director at AFIRE Chicago. Kristina was recognized as a National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum Everyday SHEroe and a Chicago Women and Femme to Celebrate. Through their work and other LGBTQIA+ AAPIs, i2i received the National Queer Asian American Pacific Islander Alliance Advocacy Award in 2016. Find out more about Kristina’s work here

What are some activities and practices that are helping you in this time?

As our communities endure immense trauma, I have made sure to dedicate time to regularly reflect on my own and with others on what this moment means for me and my community. Many communities especially LGBTQIA Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and Pacific Islander folks have been experiencing systemic harm in many ways before the pandemic, so it’s been helpful to ground myself by making sense of this time by uplifting intentions of joy, courage, rest, and love.

What are some of your memories of Pride?

At my first Pride, it meant so much to me to see an intergenerational crowd of people — elders, children, families — celebrate LGBTQ identity. It was overwhelming for someone who grew up in the South where there was very little visibility and even much less celebration of LGBTQ folks. Recognizing that pride was a political rebellion led by Black and Brown trans women, I have chosen to celebrate and honor LGBTQ communities at Dyke March every year.  Dyke March organizers breathe life into this event with an incredible opportunity to celebrate and engage with organizing and activist groups in Chicago.

What do you wish for LGBTQ people across the world this Pride Month?

I hope that LGBTQ folk across the world can build more and more space to love ourselves, love each other, and find ways we can do critical work to save our lives/save each other. This means doing our part in the long haul to social distance and fight for ourselves and others to demand dignity all communities.

Please share some achievements and moments in your life that you are proud of.

Shortly after the recession I dropped out of college and was terrified of my future. I took a leap to move to Chicago and connected with the incredible organizing community. Through this community, I have been able to be a part of historic organizing efforts to fight for racial equity, support LGBTQ folks, to uplift immigrant/refugee communities, labor rights, & environmental justice.

Currently, I am incredibly proud to work as the Executive Director of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment We work together to build the leader of the Filipino/a/x community to make systemic change. One critical area of our work includes pushing for a platform of issue emergency and long term demands that particularly impact Filipino/a/x domestic workers such as earned Paid Sick Days, Paid Family Medical Leave, accessible housing, and more cash assistance for undocumented communities.

What words (of advice, wisdom, encouragement, etc.) do you have for young queer and trans folks?

Find your people, build community, and find ways to be in solidarity with individuals and organizations doing incredible work. The LGBTQ community, especially i2i: Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago, Trikone Chicago, Dyke March Collective, Brave Space Alliance and other groups have deeply inspired me, given me courage, challenged me every day, and shown me how to fiercely love myself and other LGBTQ folks.

 

Ariel Zetina (she/her/hers) is a Chicago based artist, focusing on music production, deejaying, and writing.

Her cross-genre DJs sets have been heard worldwide. She is a resident at the legendary house club Smartbar. Find Ariel’s latest EP here.

What are some activities and practices that are helping you in this time?

I have been doing a lot of free yoga on YouTube and meditating with a five-dollar phone app. I've been cooking a lot.  I have been trying to read a lot more and am proud at how dedicated I was to the last book I finished (Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler).

What does community look like for you in these times of necessary social distancing and isolation?

Community has been my partner, my roommate, and my cats, all of the people I am deejaying with and organizing parties with on Zoom, and all the listeners who are attending.

What are some of your memories of Pride?

I am always deejaying on Pride during the day, but I usually end up at the Queen event at Smartbar after I am finished.  Seeing everyone, especially deejays and performers who just got off work as well, is always so beautiful. 

What do you wish for LGBTQ people across the world this Pride Month?

I want all LGBTQ people to advocate for police and prison reform!

Please share some achievements and moments in your life that you are proud of.

I released an EP "MUA's at the End of the World in February and it's been amazing to see it received so warmly.  I am proud of all the Belizean cooking I've done this spring, slowly but surely trying to perfect all my grandma's recipes. 

What words (of advice, wisdom, encouragement, etc.)  do you have for young queer and trans folks?

Get as much rest as you can. Remember that rest is work too and necessary to be the best version of yourself.