The self-proclaimed “Rowdy-as-Hell Poet” J Mase III will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Harvey Milk Dinner, to be held this Saturday, October 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Downtown Marriott on Maryland Street.
The 6th annual event, celebrating diversity and inclusion on the IUPUI campus, will be hosted by the IUPUI Faculty Staff Council and the IUPUI LGBTQ Student Alliance.
Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay people elected to public office in this country when he was voted onto the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He spent much of his brief time in public life devoted to activism, not only in the gay community but also for working mothers, low income families, and other marginalized communities. He was assassinated along with San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, on November 27, 1978, less than 11 months after he was inaugurated.
It has been a busy and tumultuous year in the LGBTQ community. The controversies that surrounded the RFRA battle here in Indiana, the US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and the Caitlyn Jenner revelation have been reminders that there is still a long way to go before society reaches a state of acceptance.
“Until we have total equality, we’ll always have a need for events like this,” Gary Brackett, Business Manager for the IU Center for Bioethics, said. “Things have come around a great deal the past few years. I never expected to see marriage equality in my lifetime. I’m very impressed with that, but it’s been a long time coming.”
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, several states, including Indiana, attempted to pass RFRA-type laws. Some tried to fight back individually on religious grounds, like Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“There’s going to be even more of that, I think,” Brackett said. “From more states trying to pass RFRA-type laws. I don’t think those will hold up in court, but that’s just my personal opinion.”
A performer, author, and poet, J Mase will be bringing his unique voice to the podium at the dinner as this year’s guest speaker. An organ donor, J Mase authored “If I Die Under The Knife, Tell My Kidney I Was The Fiercest Poet Around,” started the anti-Valentine’s Day movement “Cupid Ain’t @#$%!”, and has been a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and the Vanderbilt African American Lectionary Online.
“I think he’s going to give a fabulous talk about what it’s like to be an African-American transgender male living in the world today,” Brackett said. “It’s constantly evolving and changing. It’s definitely been a year of public awareness for transgender people and their rights. Thanks a lot to Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, there’s certainly more visibility and education out there about issues, and hopefully he’s going to bring a great message about equality. I think he’s going to be fabulous.”
Having a transgender speaker this year seems very appropriate, considering the importance to the LGBTQ community of the Jenner announcement earlier this year on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer. Brackett believes Jenner will, one day, be viewed similarly to some of the other landmark figures in LGBTQ history.
“Most transgender people don’t get that opportunity to talk about what they are going through,” Brackett said of Jenner. “Her past life as Bruce Jenner the athlete and having the Kardashians around her make her more visible. I don’t know that she is the poster child for the transgender community, but she has definitely brought more awareness to the issues. It’s like when we discovered that Rock Hudson had AIDS and he came out of the closet. That got people to start supporting funding for AIDS. Celebrity always brings attention and public awareness.”
Tickets for this year’s event can be purchased online at http://go.iu.edu/J8c, and for more information contact LGBTfsc@iupui.edu. For further information about this year’s guest speaker, visit the official J Mase III website at http://www.jmaseiii.com/Who_Is_J_Mase_III_.html and J Mase can be found on twitter at @jmaseiii.