Exploring intersecting identities with Queer Eye’s culture expert Tuesday, Feb 11 2020 

By Joseph Garcia —

Karamo Brown, culture expert on the Netflix reboot of “Queer Eye,” came prepared to laugh and get deep with the Louisville community Feb. 5. Students, staff, faculty and community members alike packed the Student Activities Center’s ballroom just to see the three-time Emmy winner and hear his thoughts on the intersections of identity.

Along with “Queer Eye,” Brown also appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2019 and “The Real World: Philadelphia” in 2004. He has also worked as a social worker, written a memoir and co-authored a book with his son Jason. Lately, Brown has been working on his podcast, “Karamo,” and a new skin care line.

The Student Activities Board, LGBT Center and Black Student Union coordinated the event.

Brown learned how to grow and learn from his multitude of identities as a black man, an openly gay man, a son of immigrant parents, a Christian, a single father and former social worker.

“Being here in this room with us, sends a powerful message about who we are, what we care about and value. And that’s inclusion and celebrating all the identities that make us a community,” said Brian Buford, director of employee development and success at the University of Louisville.

Brown talked about his childhood and how it was a struggle for him to celebrate who he was.

“Growing up in Texas, to immigrant parents, with the name Karamo, it was not cute, okay?” Brown said. “There were a lot of times I felt alone and isolated. I knew that I was different because I would bring things to lunch that I loved, like curry goat or ox tails, and people at school would immediately let me know that it wasn’t okay to bring.”

As a child, Brown began to internalize that being different was a bad thing. He even changed his name to Jason because people would make a face when he said his real name.

“Sometimes the faces hurt more than the words, because it was like I ‘m showing you who I am and I’m proud of who I am and then your response to be curious is ‘What?!'” Brown said, “That is a very hard pill to swallow when you’re a kid, especially when you’re still trying to build your self-esteem and figure out who you are in this big world.”

Phoenix Washington, a recent Liberal Arts graduate, said it was freeing to hear Karamo speak.

“It was nice to hear about someone with a checkered past who used their identities to build themselves up,” Washington said. “Even more freeing as a queer black person trying to figure out where you fit.”

On being “marginalized.”

This discontent to all his identities, Brown said came from a shared understanding from the people around him and the media: different meant not as good.

“It meant you’re not as special, that you don’t deserve as much,” Brown said.  “And I remember getting around the age of 13 or 14 where I started to hear this word marginalized.”

It’s something we still hear to this day and is all over news outlets. Brown said at 14 he didn’t really understand what it meant when people around him began saying he was apart of marginalized communities, but now fully understands the power and implication of the word.

“There’s an undertone. When someone says you’re part of a marginalized community, they’re saying you don’t deserve access, you’re not going to attain what someone else has attained, you don’t have the right to do so,” Brown said. “When I look at myself as a black man, as a son of immigrants, as a gay man–I don’t think of any of these things as marginal. I think of all of these things as gifts that I’ve been given to create a better life for myself.”

Battling a diminished self-esteem.

But at the time, his self-esteem was still lacking due to all the negative things he was hearing from people around him. Brown realized they were projecting their fears and issues on him. “It was causing me anxiety,” Brown said.

“I realized if I wanted to have better self-esteem, one of the things I could personally do and start doing immediately was practicing not repeating the negative things I heard about myself.”

Brown said the only way to combat that feeling of waking up in the morning and wishing something about yourself is different is to stop repeating the negative things people say about you. He said you have to start saying the good things about yourself.

“All of your identities make you special, like I said, they are gifts to me,” Brown said, “The reason I have my job on ‘Queer Eye’ is because I literally went into a room full of 100 other gay guys and decided I was not going to be ashamed of any part of my identities. I said to myself, ‘no one in here has all of my identities, I’m going to share with them what is great about me.'”

Brown said that despite this, people will try to stifle your voice, or that we ourselves will stifle our own voices.

“Social media culture makes it so very easy to look at someone’s life and say ‘Wow. Look at what they’ve done, what’s wrong with me?'” Brown said, “Let me tell you something, when it comes to your identities and appreciating and loving every part of you–comparison is the thief of joy.”

More than just black and gay.

This is all to say that the biggest part of Brown’s identity has nothing to do with his appearance, sexuality or background. It’s his ability to ask for help and his ability to start again.

“That’s why I don’t like New Year’s resolutions,” Brown said, “No one says that if you don’t make your New Year’s resolution in the timeline you thought, that you can actually start again. I want everyone in here to remember that part of your identity is your ability to ask for help if you don’t know what you’re doing and also to start again.”

“Every day is a brand new day and we know that to be true. One of the things I know to be true, and I’ve said this on ‘Queer Eye,’ is that failure is not the opposite of success. It’s part of it.”

Brown said that by doing this and allowing yourself to make mistakes, you free yourself from the shackles of yesterday.

“If a little child were here right now, and we were like ‘He’s about to start walking for the first time!’ and he fell and busted his head,” Brown said, “none of us would be like ‘You’re never gonna walk again!'” To which Brown and the audience laughed.

Curiosity and the soul.

Another one of the many big takeaways Brown wanted the audience to remember was that they should strive to stay curious. As kids, we were continually told to explore and try new things, but at some point that stops.

We get into cliques and avoid anything different.

“I’m a big believer that’s where we stop learning how to connect with people and with the world around us–when we stop being curious,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown wants people to be excited about different cultures and foods.”When you get excited about something new you start to begin to open yourself up to new possibilities. You start to find yourself getting curious about so many things around you that you didn’t know you could be curious about,” Brown said.

“Curiosity feeds your soul and mind in such a way, believe me.”

And Brown does this everyday.

“What it does for me is I start to learn. The more I learn, the more I grow, the more I grow the more I can connect with other people. The more that I connect with other people the more I feel alive and apart of this world.”

Photo by Anthony Riley // The Louisville Cardinal

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Freedom of speech should not come before student safety Monday, Feb 10 2020 

By Ben Goldberger —

On Jan. 28, a student distributed anti-LGBT information to an Intro to LGBT Studies class and returned to stalk the class again Jan. 30. After the professor and students all around campus expressed their concerns about the event, the university seemingly dismissed it as a threat.

Ricky Jones, the chairman of the University of Louisville Pan-African Studies program, expressed his concerns regarding the university’s actions on the issue in a tweet Feb. 3.

Jones explained that the U of L council believed there was not much to be done regarding the issue and they do not understand why the students felt threatened in the first place.

When hearing this, one can assume that the university believes this student was just exercising his freedom of speech, therefore this is no issue.

But that is a harmful perspective which sets a dangerous example for their students and everyone around the country.

As a result of the response from U of L, they are telling students that their safety is less important than freedom of speech. They are saying that it is okay to spread hate speech and propaganda as long as they don’t disrupt the operations of the university.

This is fundamentally wrong on many different levels. As a public institution that boasts acceptance of all groups of people, U of L should be embarrassed with how they handled this situation.

Kaila Story, the professor of the course which was attacked, shared her disgust with how the university has treated this issue.

“I am beyond disturbed by the way this incident has been treated by the Dean of Students office. In these terrifying times of school shootings and public displays of violence, I would like to think that a university office would be just as alarmed as me and my students were regarding this issue. Unfortunately, this is not the case,” Story said.

While the university officials are understandably busy and have many issues to deal with every day, this issue should be at the top of their list. Nothing is more important that their students’ safety, yet they are acting as if the feelings of their students comes second to allowing hateful people to spread their opinions.

This issue will not be going away anytime soon, with students across campus protesting against the actions of the university.

“The Dean of students office needs to know that their dismissive attitudes regarding this issue won’t be tolerated by me or my students,” Story said. “Something must be done.”

Graphic by Alexis Simon // The Louisville Cardinal

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Louisville Metro Could Soon Be More Friendly To LGBT Business Owners Friday, Nov 22 2019 

When Louisville Metro requests bids for government contracts, it already makes an effort with women-, minority- and disabled-owned businesses. And soon lawmakers could consider expanding that opportunity to businesses owned and run by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Metro Council could soon consider a change to its ordinance that codifies how it solicits bids from minority groups. The proposal, entered this week, seeks to include certified LGBT businesses in its efforts.

Cyndi Masters, the CEO and founder of digital agency DBS Interactive and a member of Louisville’s gay and lesbian chamber of commerce, said the change in language is validating. And she said it will be good for the city.

“It’s really smart, it’s really smart,” Masters said. “There’s a lot of loyalty from these marginalized communities, so when you include me, I’m pretty loyal to you. Especially if you included me before it was popular.”

Right now Louisville dedicates a small percentage of its business spending, which is known as procurement, to companies owned by women, minorities and disabled people. The new ordinance would specifically encourage proposals from LGBT-owned businesses, and would include dedicated outreach to those owners.

Jonathan Lovitz of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which is the body that certifies LGBT businesses, said they add about $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy each year. So he said inviting them to the table makes good business sense.

“One of the problems and the reason that supplier diversity programs like this were established was because of the historic biases and discriminatory practices that so many communities felt… too often, the contract went to the golfing buddy of the procurement officer,” he said.

Lovitz said more and more cities are codifying efforts to contract with LGBT business owners. Just this year, Los Angeles, Chicago and Tampa have taken this kind of step. He said Louisville doing the same could send a message to the rest of Kentucky.

Although the city is known for its LGBTQ-friendliness, the same is not necessarily true of the state. Case in point: In 2017, the California attorney general banned state-funded travel to Kentucky over a law he said could lead to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Lovitz said that if Louisville adopts this ordinance change, it would signal an embrace of America’s diverse economic future. And with Democrat Andy Beshear taking office as governor next month, Lovitz sees more opportunities.

“We are very excited at the NGLCC to work with the new governor, as we have with governors across the country in adding not just LGBT- but disability- and veteran-owned businesses, who are usually the three categories left out of state procurement,” he said.

Louisville’s ordinance already covers businesses owned by disabled people, including a goal of spending half a percent of its procurement budget with them. But the ordinance still refers to that group as “handicapped.” The proposal filed this week seeks to update that language to say “disabled,” instead.

For business owner Cyndi Masters, who is also disabled, it’s an overdue change.

“Thank God. Thank God,” she said. “What an archaic word.”

She previously registered her business with the gay and lesbian chamber, as well as Disability:IN, which certifies disabled-owned businesses.

“Handicapped, it just has a negative connotation. It’s a belittling word,” she said.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green (D-1) introduced the ordinance this week. She said it’s common sense, and good for Louisville.

“We want to send a message that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is good business practice to be welcome to all businesses, no matter who they’re owned by,” she said.

The Community Affairs Committee will most likely consider the ordinance in December, following the Thanksgiving break.