The Trans Sounds of Black Freedom
Instructor: Michael Roberson
Date: Friday, April 8, 1:00 – 6:00 pm | Saturday, April 9, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Format: This course will be held in person, at Union Theological Seminary. All registrants must be fully vaccinated and must adhere to Union’s Visitor Policy.
Africa-American Harlem Renaissance writer and poet, Zora Neal Hurston wrote “black women are the mules of the earth.” For some, black trans women are historically and theologically situated somewhere between Howard Thurman’s notion of “the disinherited” and Franz Fanon’s notion of “the wretched of the earth.” In a contemporary context, transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay African-American persons must overcome complex challenges to establish and secure welcoming and nourishing communities. Even when connected with multiple social groups, membership in these groups is highly conditional and tenuous. Constant marginalization sustains the community’s burdens of stigma, violence, housing insecurity, and extremely high HIV infection rates. One response to marginalization has been the formation of self-sustaining social networks and cultural groups, such as the House | Ballroom scene, a Black/Latino LGBT artistic collective and intentional kinship system that has grown over the past 50 years with its roots in the Harlem Renaissance. We will explore the history of the House | Ballroom community as a Black Trans-Womanist theological discourse, a freedom movement, and its spiritual formation responses to race, class, sexuality, and gender oppression. We’ll explore the use of the art of performance as a hermeneutics of the body, then situate its history in mobilizing as a resistance, while placing this resistance in conversation with other historical struggles.
Fulfills concentration requirement for Religion and the Black Experience students.
About Michael Roberson
Michael Roberson is a public health practitioner, advocate, activist, artist, curator, and leader within the LGBTQ community. He is the co-creator of the nation’s only Black Gay Research group and National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, as well as an Adjunct Professor at The New School University/Lang College NYC, and Union Theological Seminary NYC. He is an international art and politics consultant and a member of the international sound art collective entitled “Ultra-red.” Michael scholar in residence for the Center for Race, Religion, and Economic Democracy, as well as recent TED Media Resident, where he performed a global TED talk about the underground Black/Latinx House/ball ballroom community, entitled “The enduring legacy of ballroom” For Black History Month 2021, Michael co-authored an article in Time Magazine titled “Why Voguing and the Ballroom Scene Matter Now More than Ever.” Michael also serves as a cultural consultant for the Pose FX television show. Additionally, he is a public health advisor and community engagement specialist for the NYC COVID-19 contract tracing initiative.