On Thursday, March 29, Rivera House, the LGBTQIA+ living-learning community, along with the SUNY Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Sojourner Truth Library held “After #Pulse,” in Parker Theatre.
The event, which was free to the public, focused on “making and claiming LGBTQIA+ space as artists and performers,” and featured performances by poet Venus Selenite and drag artists Venus Envy and C’Etait Bontemps.
The night began with Dr. Andrea Gatzke welcoming the crowd, which filled the seats of Parker Theatre. Dr. Gatzke then read remarks from Dr. Cris Livecchi, the current director of Rivera House, who was unable to attend the performance. The letter from Dr. Livecchi highlighted the moment he found out about the deadly shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, in 2016.
“The purpose of the event was to engage with the impact of the Pulse Orlando shooting on the queer community. We did this in a way that focused on expression and healing rather than the brutality of the tragedy, which has been rehashed over and over in the news,” Livecchi said.
After Dr. Gatzke, Dr. Lydia Willoughby, a reference librarian at the Sojourner Truth Library and organizer of the event, spoke on how the night came to be. Willoughby was inspired to plan “After #Pulse” more than a year ago, after poet Venus Selenite reached out to her online regarding a syllabus on Pulse Willoughby created alongside a fellow poet, calling on her to bring to attention the voices of trans and queer people of color.
“That was one small part of my response to the events at Pulse,” Willoughby said. “How our campus and our community, how every LGBTQIA community, responded and continues to respond to Pulse tells us something that we learn about ourselves and our grief, our joys, and about our capacity to discuss and take action on issues of race and colonialism from within the LGBTQIA+community, as accomplices to change,”
On behalf of Rivera House, the LGBTQIA+ living-learning community located in Lenape Hall, first-year student Kailey Strafford, a member of Rivera House, spoke on the importance of the community and the space and services it provides for LGBTQIA+ students.
“We are committed to living with each other and growing as a queer family through community-based programs.” Strafford said. “Our first friends when we come to New Paltz are formed in that hall.”
The first performer of the night, Venus Selenite, is a poet, transgender rights activist and author of 2016’s Trigger. Selenite read multiple poems from her collection, but also engaged with the audience in an informal, refreshing manner, and was able to move the crowd with her inspiring words, while also entertaining with jokes about the tone of her voice and her southern accent.
Before reading a poem about a murdered transgender woman, Selenite stated that she performs the poem everywhere she goes and hopes that one day she won’t have to. At the conclusion of her set, Selenite urged the crowd to “Remember the names [she spoke}, because they are forgotten too often.”
Along with Selenite, the event also welcomed two drag performers. Venus Envy, who is from Orlando and worked at Pulse, where the shooting took place, performed emotional renditions of two songs, “Let the Flames Begin” by Paramore and “Tear Me Down” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“Typically my performances are meant to be funny and I rely a lot on gimmicks and visual comedy, but for After #Pulse, I took a different direction. Both of the songs I picked have themes of overcoming adversity and standing strong as a community. That is the message I wanted to convey,” Envy said.
C’Etait Bontemps, introduced as “the baby boy of burlesque and drag,” also delivered two powerful performances to “Real Men” by Tori Amos and “Be Brave” by My Brightest Diamond.
“I was really happy to be able to support Venus Envy and C’Etait Bontemps, since they both perform such genre-bending and queered perspectives on drag and burlesque, stuff that is outside of a mainstream understanding of what a drag performer is/is not,” Willoughby said.
Overall, the event was a major success and a great way to not only honor the victims of the Pulse shooting, but all members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are targeted in society.
For those interested, applications for the Rivera House will be opening soon!