Diaries of a Closeted Soul is a theatrical performance that was held last week at UCLA about the coming out stories of individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Facilitated and created by the Chair of BlaQue, Janetta Osborne, and an ally to the community, Taveonna Harvey, this event was a great introduction of what BlaQue has in store for the upcoming year. I sat down to chat with both of the ladies to get more insight about Diaries of a Closeted Soul, their views on the coming out process, and the Black community.
Interviewer: Kaleef Starks
Kaleef: “How did you become involved with BlaQue and what are some of your goals for this year?”
Janetta: Eric Adams is my mentor and I learned about the organization through him. Activism has always been in my veins. In high school, I started a LGBT club because I felt that we needed solidarity between the heterosexual and LGBT community. Being the president of the club helped me to prepare for my current position as the Chair of BlaQue. I also realized that in my social life I wasn’t always accepted. For example, when I tried to [talk] to my heterosexual friends about my dating life, I would feel really weird. Some people were okay with it, but no one wanted to talk about it. In my circle there was a lot of heteronormativity and homophobia. I wanted to create a space where we can discuss these things, because I always felt locked up. So BlaQue gave me a space to open up dialogue with people.
My goal this year [is to increase] visibility and expression. I think they go hand and hand. Literally, queer individuals speaking their minds without being closed out, dressing how they want to dress, living in their truth and being visible is the goal.
Kaleef: That’s great! How do you identify?
Janetta: I identify as a Black Womyn (spelled that way for personal/political reasons), who is queer identified.
Kaleef: Do you feel that there is a safe space for Black LGBT/Queer people on campus?
Janetta: I feel that BlaQue is that place, but it’s still transforming as a space. Every space is not completely safe because to some extent the safety is subjective. I say that because I feel that we can always work on safety. I don’t want to insinuate that the work of BlaQue is done. We can always be making progress. I feel like people always try to shut us off. When I’m sitting in a room next to someone I can pick up on them being uncomfortable with my queerness. No one should feel uncomfortable around us. People who have been attending BlaQue come to me and say how good they feel! That is what makes me happy! Also, the work of Jason Smith, Eric Adams, and Marcus Armani within the Black community on campus has created the bridge. I’m here to keep it going. Also, even with ASU [Afrikan Student Union], they don’t know what to say at times when I discuss this section of the community, but they still listen and are open to what I have to say. That is progress.
Kaleef: Tell us about your event Diaries of a Closeted Soul.
Janetta: We wanted visibility and expression. I remember talking to some of my friends, Devin Murphy, and he suggested that I give BlaQue a new face. The idea came! I thought, “How can I tie coming out stories to acting?” So I hit up some friends from Hooligan, we co-programmed, and we had rehearsals within the next week. Diaries of a Closeted Soul is a show that consists of monologues of coming out stories that are acted out. I had people anonymously submit their coming out stories, the actor’s chose which ones they connected to and we did it! I wanted it to be beautiful and raw at the same time. I wanted the audience to feel the impact of these people’s stories. We wanted rawness and emotion.
Kaleef: Do you feel like this event was a gateway to healing for LGBTQ students?
Janetta: I believe it was very healing, and that’s why I wanted these stories to be heard. One of my friend’s who submitted a story sat in the audience. Watching this person’s face was like, wow, that really impacted them! It was amazing to me, and I hope we accomplished the goal. People were so emotional.
Kaleef: Any words of encouragement for LGBTQ people on campus that are coming out or struggling?
Janetta: Self-love is very important rather you be queer or identify as heterosexual. It comes with a certain amount of self-confidence. Our queerness should not shake anyone. If you don’t like it then move on with your day. This society constantly focuses on labels and running to something, we are all trying to find something to identify with. There should be no pressure with that, don’t rush it, just go with the flow and you’ll get through it. It’s a beautiful thing once you find yourself.”
Kaleef: (to Taveonna): “What was Diaries of a Closeted Soul about to you?”
Taveonna: Diaries of a Closeted Soul portrayed the individual thoughts of what a man or women has to go through in the coming out process. These are some of the most vulnerable moments of people’s life. Capturing that was special. We got to see what it means to be LGBTQ. People struggle with these things on a daily basis. When a topic like this is discussed, people get so uncomfortable. I think that this is a very loving way to show others who you are.
Kaleef: What inspired you to be an ally and a part of the creation of this show?
Taveonna: Ultimately, what inspired me to become a part of this production was Janetta. I have a lot of queer identified friends on campus. Janetta told me about the project, and I shared with her how I have a background in theatre. One night we were looking for ideas, and I shared my vision. My role was to help the actors mold themselves to illustrate these moments with the audience. I also [helped] pick the scripts. We partnered up and executed our vision.”
Kaleef: How do you feel this event has affected the Black and campus community?
Taveonna: Overall, people have so many issues with others who identity as LGBTQ. You see it everywhere; it exists in our day-to-day lives. People need to remove the stereotypes and stigma! All the heteronormativity needs to be removed. It helps us establish a foundation of understanding, love and power. In the Black community, I feel like this is a pertinent issue. We have experienced so much as a diaspora. This event is great for our community, because it gives us hope. I think it’s a great step in terms of people within our community being accepted. It’s not going to be easy at all, but as intellectuals we have the capacity to change and do better. With that being said, I’m happy to not only exercise my craft, but also be an ally.
BlaQue meetings are every Wednesday at 6pm in Kerckhoff 136!