Camp Pride, a summer leadership institute for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally (LGBTA) college students, has featured a keynote from Mara every year, beginning with its second. Her presence there, in addition to providing an accessible model for trans student leaders, consistently provokes enthusiastic engagement from all campers. For me, both as a camper, and in subsequent years as a teaching team member, her involvement with camp and representation of NCTE has offered a rare note of affirmation that someone cares and something is being done–a sentiment I hear echoed among other transgender participants at Camp Pride, especially those who, like me reside in red states where even cisgender members of the queer community are largely legally unprotected.
Mara’s Friday appearance at Camp Pride emphasized skills integral to leadership in any movement, focusing in particular on the importance of knowing one’s direction, taking practical steps to get there, and finding a cause and community to love. She also spoke to the tendency of leaders to isolate themselves, urging Camp participants to “make yourself replaceable” and “bring more people into your getting-work-done machine.” Throughout her keynote, Mara affirmed the necessity of approaching queer activism in terms that embrace broader social justice issues, pointing in particular to the disproportionate impact of violence and anti-queer oppression on people of color.
The keynote was particularly relevant for student leaders, whose academic contexts tend to generate unique social and financial constraints, often creating a high degree of homogeneity and spurring the whitewashing of identities and oversimplification of activist agendas. As a trans-identified social justice advocate working largely in and around university contexts, and serving in a number of mentoring and advising roles to younger student leaders, I was heartened by the dialogues sparked by Mara’s presence and presentation. Her clear identification of activist work on multiple, intersectional fronts with other practical necessities for leadership developed themes that continue to be underexplored, but intensely important for emerging LGBTA movements.
Asher Wickell is an artist, activist, and educator; a founding co-facilitator of the Wichita Transgender Coalition; and a Master’s student in marriage and family therapy at Friends University.