Pride Month keynote speaker addresses homosexuality in the South

Speaker E. Patrick Johnson has written three books.

Scholar, performer and activist E. Patrick Johnson performed Monday and spoke Tuesday as the final event of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Resource Center’s Pride Month.

Johnson is a Performance Studies and African-American Studies professor at Northwestern University and is also a fellow at the ESB Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College. He has published three books, including “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South — An Oral History.”

“These men are human,” Johnson said. “These are human stories. Yes, they’re black; yes they’re gay; yes they’re from the south, but there’s something that runs through all of their stories and that is their humanity.”

Monday, Johnson recited “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales” and the next day gave a lecture titled “In Search of Countess Vivian: Queerness and the Making of Southern History.”

Johnson spoke briefly about the compounded discrimination for black members of the gay community and how systems of oppression work together.

“Even in the black community, that’s (being gay) even a worse double negative than just being black,” freshman Krista Pulley said. “In the black community, people don’t look at it as a good thing so he wanted to shed some light on it.”

He also showed his documentary “In Search of Countess Vivian.”

“In Search of Countess Vivian” was about George Eagerson, a New Orleans resident who was born in 1912 and lived through the Great Depression, two hurricanes, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.

“I love the content in regards to ‘Countess Vivian’ and just really pointing out the fact that the current community – the gay community – is incredibly diverse with so many different personalities such as ‘Countess Vivian’ and it’s wonderful to be able to have that,” LGBTQ Resource Center Coordinator Ryan Black said.

Eagerson was interviewed for the book but Johnson lost contact with him after Hurricane Katrina, leading Johnson to search for him.

“Sweet Tea” features many stories from black, gay men of the South. Johnson said he focused on this group because he thinks they contributed to black history in many ways and should be recognized for it.

Johnson said he hopes people will be able to connect with the stories in the book because of the common humanity and hopes it will break down some stereotypes for readers.

“It’s harder for you to be homophobic if you actually know and are friends with a gay person,” Johnson said. “But if you don’t know any and you think all of them are predators or ‘queenies’ or whatever stereotype you have in your mind, it’s easier for you to stay in that place but if you actually know a living, breathing person who has a story similar to yours then it’s harder for you to discriminate against them. So that’s why I’m hoping sharing these stories and someone like ‘Countess Vivian’ who has been through a lot, can let people know that these are human stories.”

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