From the age of 4, Janet Mock knew she was different.
Mock, a transgender woman of color and “fierce activist” for transgender rights, gave the keynote speech for QPenn, Penn’s annual weeklong celebration of LGBTQA culture on Sunday night.
“There aren’t very many women from that demographic who are visible in the public eye and have a real voice that gets listened to,” College sophomore Dawn Androphy, QPenn co-chair and chair of the Lambda Alliance, said. “I think it’s really special that we’re bringing someone like Janet to campus, who is going to be able to touch on these issues that a lot of other people on campus just really can’t speak to in the same way that she can.”
Mock is a native Hawaiian and former staff editor of People.com who now spends her time working on a book and documentary about her life.
She began with a discussion on what it is like to be a trans woman in the media. She discussed the struggles that trans community faces, noting how trans women are the “active agents in our own survival.”
Wharton sophomore and QPenn co-chair Christian Cortes said that QPenn decided to bring Mock here because “we really think she is going to speak about a lot of issues that haven’t really been talked about by past keynote speakers.”
In her speech, Mock began sharing the story of her teenage transition and then concentrated her efforts on speaking out about the struggles, successes and portrayals of trans women around the world.
Mock also spoke about the “elders” who came before her and specifically her own personal hero, Sylvia Rivera, a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and advocate of the marginalized gay rights movement.
But her discussion was grounded in the present challenges that face the trans community. Mock discussed why she became an advocate and noted how she was tired of trans women of color being reduced to their bodies — only gaining attention in the aftermath of violence. “We are more valued in our deaths than we are in our lives” she added.
Mock concluded her speech by telling everyone in the audience to be “unapologetic about who you are.”
Wharton freshman Britt Gilbert, co-founder of Penn Non-Cis, a group for students whose biological gender and sexual identity do not match, said “ As someone who works really hard for gender equality and advocacy, seeing someone speak who has also done a lot of that work, I think is really important.”
This year, QPenn’s theme is “50 Shades of Gay,” meant to emphasize the different identities within the queer community.
“We want to make sure we highlight those different identities,” Cortes said. “We’re not just the labels everyone sees, we’re more than that.”
“We meant the name to be sort of tongue in cheek because the idea is that the majority of events are going beyond the ‘gay’ label,” Androphy added.
QPenn week will continue with events hosted by the various constituent groups of Lambda focusing on different aspects of LGBT life ranging from intimate partner violence, film screenings and the annual Pride Games, aimed at tackling homophobia in athletics.
QPenn will also be hosting its eighth annual drag show and a “Great Gatsby Party” at the LGBT Center. Cortes said that both events will be a way to “really get [students] to meet other people in their community.”
The week will culminate in a “Passing of the Torch” ceremony with Festival Latino, the Latino Coalition’s weeklong celebration of Latino culture and heritage.
“We’re really excited to collaborate with the Latino community and discuss that intersection,” Androphy said. “I think it’s going to be a really great way, not only to bring the communities together but also have even more of a fun time.”
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