GV celebrates Trans Week of Visibility


GVL / Sydney Lim

Isabelle England, Staff Writer

This year, Grand Valley State University celebrated Trans Week of Visibility with several events aimed to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community. The week of events ended with the celebration of National Transgender Day of Visibility. 

To start the week of events, the Milton E. Ford LGBTQ Resource Center hosted the “Femme Queen Chronicles,” a comedy series about the lives of three Black trans women navigating their lives in the city of Detroit. The movie screening was accompanied with a discussion with the film creator, Ahya Simone, followed by a feature harp performance from Simone.

The center’s mission is to advocate for institutional equity, promote community-building and provide educational opportunities. Further, they aim to create an informed and cohesive campus where community members of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities feel supported and welcomed.

During the week, the center, in collaboration with the GVSU men’s club volleyball team, held a drag show co-hosted by Drag Queens La Reine Divine and Cherry Poppins. La Reine Divine is better known around GVSU as Marcus John, the head coach of the D1 men’s club volleyball team. 

Amongst the Grand Rapids natives were queens Nani, Zaria S. Zion, Asio Aviance, Jane and special guest Cocky Define. The show aimed to bring entertainment and acceptance to GVSU and also acted as a fundraiser for the volleyball team. 

“When I was going here in 2011, I didn’t even know what a trans individual was or what they looked like, but the LGBTQ center makes a big difference and a big push to get people who identify anyway they identify to feel safe,” said Marcus John, head coach of the D1 men’s club volleyball team.  

Paden Rousseau, the president of the men’s club volleyball team, partnered with John to draft the idea in the fall semester where they held the first GVSU-sponsored drag show.

The first event last November had a large turnout. This time around, the queens, several of which are GVSU alumni, offered up their time and talents for free. They were looking to support the community and help bring trans and queer people to the forefront of the week. 

“A huge part of our club and culture is accepting everybody and Marcus sat us down in the beginning and just kind of talked about that,” Rousseau said. “How volleyball was his way of expression and coming out and that kind of stuff. That is a core value of our program. It is something we are definitely not afraid of and want to embrace everybody. That’s the main reason why I love this program, and do this work is because they accept everybody.” 

After the show, the queens sat down and offered comments on their work.

“Drag for me was definitely an escape because I didn’t have to deal with Marcus’s issues, she (La Reine Divine) was definitely an escape, and she saved my life in a sense,” Johns said. “I used to see them as two separate entities, and now I see them as one person now so it’s been quite the journey that I have been on.” 

When asked about how drag has affected their lives, queen Nani commented on how she found her identity through the art and how it has helped her feel more represented in her own cultural roots. 

“Drag helped me find my transness, and I’ve been doing drag for like maybe three years now, I’m noticing there is not a lot of Latin representation so I did a show out in Lowell and I did a Hispanic song,” Nani said. “The kids came to me and told me how important it was to see me represent this whole space of Michigan that I don’t think it very represented. I love the applause and feeling like a star.” 

With the ongoing controversy surrounding the art of drag, it’s important to the center to continue to spread the message of acceptance on campus. Both gender identity and gender expression are protected under the university’s policies including the GVSU Board of Trustees policies on Sex and Gender Based Harassment. Harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/or gender expression is continually protected by the university’s Title IX office. 

“When I was going here, I’m a pretty introverted person, so finding the courage to go to the LGBTQ center was really hard,” Nani said. “But there was actually a drag club here and I participated in that and that was a lot of fun.” 

“For our trans members of the community, visibility is crucial,” said D.L. McKinney, Director of the Milton E. Ford LGBTQ Resource Center. “This is a space for trans and non-binary people to feel seen through positive realistic representation. This also gives space for allies and advocates to learn more about the wealth of talent in our community and how to stand in solidarity for justice and celebration.” 

Students can get involved with the many center-sponsored student groups for all identities. The center also has a wide range of trans-specific resources like scholarship opportunities and resources on everything from how to go about making a legal name change in Michigan to gender-inclusive housing at GV.  

“I was one of the first student workers when the LGBTQ Resource Center opened in 2008,” McKinney said. “This was the first time I felt like I had a voice that mattered and that I was more than a Black queer person. I was able to do roundtable talks as an activity in my position and I did a leadership round table because even though young in my professional career, I knew that leading and boldness mattered to engage in change and make way for others like myself to soar.”

To close out the week’s celebration, GVSU welcomed Jey’nce Poindexter, a Michigan-based trans activist and community pioneer for a togetherness event.

“Don’t be scared to use your voice, because I can’t speak for trans individuals because I’m not one, but just from being an outsider looking in you can see how our trans brothers and sisters are really scared, just to go outside,” Cherry Poppins said. “Our allies have the power to use their voices to stand up for our trans brothers and sisters, don’t stand in the shadows because that is part of the problem.” 

For more information about how to get involved with queer-based activities on campus, students can visit the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center located on the first floor of Kirkhof center or contact the center through their email at lgbtcenter.gsvu.edu.