by Lisa Martin
City College’s Diversity Committee brought three speakers to Ocean Campus to discuss diversity at their “Transforming the World Through Equity, Justice and Freedom” event.
A mixture of faculty, students, and administrators arrived to hear Dr. Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Wyomia Tyus and Dr. Ronald Holt speak about the ways in which they’ve tried to make the world more inclusive for people of color and people who are LGBTQ.
Dr. Ardel Haefele-Thomas is the department chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at City College and the author of “Introduction to Transgender Studies,” the first undergraduate textbook of its kind. They are non-binary and transgendered themself, but made it a point to include in their textbook as many diverse voices from various racial, economic and gender-identifying backgrounds to write essays about their experiences.
The 1987 Second National March on Washington for LGBT Rights was a pivotal moment for Haefele-Thomas. It took place during the height of the AIDs crisis during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, which failed to address the epidemic. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 750,000 people marched that day.
Haefele-Thomas remembered that at the front of the march were around 5,000 AIDs patients, “most of them gay men and many of them literally being pushed on wheelchairs and in gurneys with IV fluids.”
“Every day I’m going to remember those folks who I know didn’t make it back home out of DC. They died there. They made the choice for the last thing they did to be political action,” Haefele-Thomas said. “I owe it to be there and to do anything I can to also work and help give people a voice as much I can.”
After Haefele-Thomas spoke, former Olympic runner Wyomia Tyus took the mic to tell her own life story. Growing up as a black woman in Jim Crow-era Georgia meant that Tyus experienced both sexism and racism firsthand.
Tyus went on to become a track star and at 19 years old she won a gold and silver medal the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Four years later at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Tyus became the first person in history to earn a gold medal in the 100m race in two consecutive Olympics.
“We’ve all got gold medals in us. It’s just a matter of where you’re going to put them, how you’re going to use them,” Tyus said. “Not only did I use winning the gold medals out on the track, I like to think where I have been standing for human rights and equal rights for women — and that is something that I am still working on, will always work on, because those things are important to me — those are my gold medals in life and I think we all have those.”
When a student asked if Tyus had advice for dealing with the day-to-day fight against marginalization, Tyus said “Stay in the fight, that doesn’t mean you have to fight physically, but stay in the fight. Know where you are. Know what you want.”
Dr. Ronald Holt, a psychiatrist that has made it his mission to better the lives of LGBTQ people by spreading the message that it is not wrong to be gay, holds seminars for medical professionals on treating LGBTQ people. He also wrote the book “Pride: You Can’t Heal If You’re Hiding from Yourself.”
Holt never forgot his own traumatic coming-out experience as a gay man from conservative Nebraska, which is why he makes a point to reach out to students and communities in rural areas.
“Students drive schools,” Holt said. When asked about how he connected to so many schools, he said it was much easier to reach out to student organizations first rather than school administrations.
After speaking, all three stayed to sign books and talk to students and people who had come to see them.