Pride Week is in full swing at the University of Louisville, with an array of events from film screenings, lectures and tie-dye-it-yourself activities to free HIV testing.
On Thursday, keynote speaker Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins will address students, bringing a decade of experience in writing and public speaking. He’s written articles for Blavity, The Root, Efniks, Wear Your Voice and Talkspace, has worked for over a decade for social justice and grassroots movements, and gave a TEDx Talk on the subject of letting go of our fears.
Insider spoke with Higgins by phone to talk about his work and his life in advance of the address.
Higgins was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a single-parent household.
“I had always known from a very young age that I was different, but I didn’t understand or comprehend the difference until I was maybe 12 and able to get a wording around what that was — which was me ultimately being queer,” said Higgins.
Much of his work revolves around the intersection of LGBTQ and racial issues, a difficult issue that first troubled him at home.
“There were expectations in my family of what it meant to be a black boy — or a young black kid — versus being queer,” said Higgins.
Like many LGBTQ youth, Higgins had negative experiences trying to fit into social spaces.
“A lot of my life meant dealing with harassment, dealing with fighting all the different pieces that come with being queer, and me kind of trying to be resilient around that,” he explained.
After Higgins struggled to find his sexual identity in the context of an African-American family, in college he found the reverse could be true, and aspects of the LGBTQ community had trouble addressing and accepting his blackness.
“How do I center myself in two communities that oftentimes don’t like to talk about the racism or the injustice that is present in regards to talking about sexual identity,” he questioned.
As a doctoral candidate, Higgins examined how other black men in their first year of college explored and experienced their intersection of race and sexuality.
“At the time, lots of the research was very white-male centered, and there wasn’t enough research around what it looked like to be a queer person of color in higher-ed,” he said.
To do that research, he had to be sure he could temporarily set aside his own experiences.
“How I did that was (to) ask questions that were very pointed: ‘What did your life look like before?’ ‘What did your life look like during?’ and ultimately, ‘How did you make sense of it?’” said Higgins.
Since earning his doctorate, Higgins has gravitated as a writer toward articles that fall more into the mainstream of media and opinion pieces that dominate much of the public discussion around intersectionality.
This writing presents a platform that blends researching into writing that allows him to use his voice as a queer black man.
Higgins offered a recent example.
“One of the managing editors from Wear Your Voice was, like, ‘I need you to write an article on Kevin Spacey.’ And I was, like, OK great, and so I put that article together in like 30 minutes,” said Higgins. “And I still had to do the research behind it and I had to look for data, I had to look for facts, I had to look for information that could really talk about the issues at hand.”
For his speech at UofL, Higgins will address the place of intersectionality in the zeitgeist.
“I think the keynote will be able to really frame what its like in this moment … how do you keep your self together in the process of having all these things happening,” said Higgins.
He noted that this historical moment includes police brutality and an administration that is hostile to LGBTQ people.
“A big part of my keynote will be about how in these moments of injustice, we’re talking about injustice and we’re talking about how things need to change, and how people of color, specifically queer black people, are erased out of the conversation.”
Higgins will deliver his keynote address on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m., at Strickler Hall on UofL’s Belknap campus. The event is free and open to the public. For the full Pride Week schedule, check out the LGBT Center at UofL’s website.