The second floor of Persnickety Books in Burlington, North Carolina is filled with science fiction books and classics. But on Sep. 16, the second floor held space for community members as well, as the store hosted the “LGBTQIA Histories and Future of Alamance County” conversation panel.
The event was hosted by Alamance Pride, Elon University’s Gender & LGBTQIA Center, Elon Women’s Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Elon’s Gender & Sexuality Living Learning Community. Hosted at Persnickety Books, the event featured a presentation from Josh Hollands, Elon University’s Fulbright Scholar, a poetry reading from Founder of Define and Empower Amanda Bennet, and small group discussions.
Hollands’ research focused on LGBTQIA histories in the American South, specifically looking at Cracker Barrel: the first company in the United States to explicitly state that they fired someone based on their sexual orientation.
Hollands explained to the crowd at Persnickety Books that his research looks at the struggles for social justice in the United States, with a focus on LGBTQIA identities and how the movements of LGBTQIA communities have intersected with race, gender and class. This work has led him to look at the differences between urban and rural communities, and observe the grassroots movements from each, as well.
“It really challenged us… in terms of how we conceptualize queer receptibility within the South,” said Hollands. “[Burlington] is one of these places where you can really see a cross section of folks coming together.”
Rodney Wyatt-Younger, a board member of Alamance Pride, said he enjoyed learning about the history of the South from Hollands during the event, but he said what he loved most was seeing so many people attend.
“Being out has never been an issue for me. But being around queer people in a setting like this?” Wyatt-Younger said. “My heart is just racing. I really enjoyed this.”
Following Hollands’ presentation, Bennett read some of her poetry aloud to the group. Define and Empower is a Black femnist consulting group Bennett founded; the name is inspired by Audre Lorde. Bennett is a doctoral student at Duke University, where her dissertation centers on Toni Morrison, Hortnese Spillers and Assata Shakur’s works.
Bennett facilitates a poetry lab, a Black feminist reading group, an emotional intelligence group for men and has presented at Elon previously. She gave copies of her poetry, “The Magic of Self Repair,” to those in attendance at the event, as well.
“I take the concept of the magic [of self repair] to mean practices that enslaved Black people have used over centuries to be able to defy the odds and survive both enslavement, Jim Crow, and institutional racism,” Bennett said.
Zach Weitzen, an Elon freshman, is heavily involved in LGTQIA events at Elon, and said he came to Persnickety books for Hollands’ lecture, but he stayed for the poetry.
“I thought the poetry was really amazing.” Weitzen said. “A unique perspective, that's my biggest takeaway… the poetry is something you can keep … Poetry is more whimsical and a unique experience.”
Luis Garay, director of the GLC, said the turnout for the event was fantastic and was thrilled to see so many Elon students attend. One of the best parts for Garay was seeing Elon students connect with queer and transgender people in Alamance County who are older than them, something Professor of Philosphy and Women’s Gender, & Sexuality Studies Lauren Guilmette enjoyed as well.
“It was really important to get Elon students over here because we’re so often told that we’re safe on campus and not as safe in the wider community,” Guilmette. “I really wanted students to know there are safe and incredibly welcoming spaces in Burlington.”
Garay said they hope this event is one of many to come for Elon students and community members alike.
“I hope that this is … a continuous push to do this,” Garay said. “Continuing to commit to help our students get connected outside the Elon bubble, helping them be a part of the Alamance County community.”