Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.
This week we're talking with Paige Schilt. Paige is currently a Research Fellow for Soulforce, a national LGBT social justice organization dedicated to the principals of nonviolent resistance. She is also a dyke mama, a "low-femme" nerd, an activist, and a part-time professor of LGBT studies. Paige holds a Ph.D. in English and Cultural Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and has published scholarly articles on queer culture at the intersections of race and class, focusing on figures such as Richard Rodriguez, Isaac Julien, and Aileen Wuornos. She lives in Austin with her partner, Katy Koonce, and their son, who is named after a certain country music legend.
Follow me after the jump for Paige's views on religious oppression, nonviolent activism, holiday traditions, and Barack Obama.
1. How did you get involved with TBP?
Friends and colleagues were always forwarding me articles from TBP, so I knew it was a diverse forum with many trans voices and lots of competing (and compelling) ideas about what it means to be queer and what it means to do activism. I wrote an essay titled "Boygirls, Pillbugs, and Cool Dudes," which was about my son, who is growing up with a genderqueer parent and as part of genderqueer and feminist communities. Rather than arguing that LGBT families are just like non-LGBT families, I wanted to emphasize the advantages of having queer parents (like learning to understand gender as a continuum instead of a binary). I wrote the piece for my personal blog, but I hoped it would appeal to a wider audience, so I submitted it as a guest post.
2. What was your coming out experience like?
Funny you should ask, because I just wrote a Coming Out Day post for Bilerico. I came out relatively late (28) for people of my generation, but I was involved in LGBT activism from my teens. I am second generation gay, which is a great blessing, but it made sorting out my own identity rather complicated.
3. How did you get involved with Soulforce?
In 2004, a Focus on the Family affiliate group staged a rally on the steps of the Texas state capitol to get people pumped up about a marriage amendment. Jeff Lutes, who is now the Executive Director at Soulforce, organized a counter-protest. Jeff's idea, which was brilliant, was for LGBT and ally folks in matching t-shirts to infiltrate the rally and to stand right next to the attendees in peaceful opposition. Our son Waylon was just a baby, and it was a hot summer day. My wife, Katy, and I were doing everything we could to keep him shaded and comfortable in his stroller, and I was aware that all of these fundamentalist ladies in the crowd were watching us. One woman kept offering to spray Waylon with her personal misting device (it's a Texas thing) to cool him off. Part of me wanted to say, "hell no you can't touch my baby with your hateful Jesus water," but I made a split-second decision to trust her. At the end of the rally, she came up to apologize for the hateful rhetoric, and Katy and I were able to talk with her about how a marriage amendment would hurt our family. It was a pretty classic Soulforce moment, because our goal is always dialogue and reconciliation. I was hooked. When Jeff became E.D. in 2006 and started looking for an Austin-based Media Director, I jumped at the chance to apply.
4. What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
I guess this is a good place to mention that I am changing roles at Soulforce. I have loved being the Soulforce Media Director for the past 2 ½ years, but I am taking some time to focus on my own writing. They have been gracious enough to allow me to stay connected as a Soulforce Research Fellow, so I will continue to work on a few research and writing projects.
For me, the most rewarding thing about working at Soulforce has been learning about nonviolence as a discipline for activism. Learning to keep your adversary's shared humanity in the forefront of your mind, opening up to the possibility that your adversary may have something to teach you--these are challenging but rewarding goals. One of the most moving things that we did during my tenure as Media Director was to invite people to write letters of compassion and concern to Ted Haggard after he lost his job. I was lucky enough to get to read most of those letters before we sent them, and the depth of the grace and generosity that they expressed was astounding. That's not to say that the writers weren't angry with him, they were, but they could still imagine what it was like to be in his shoes. They showed him a kind of grace that I think of as particularly queer.
5. What are some of your family's favorite holiday traditions?
Well, since we're trying to raise a kid with queer cultural values, it's really important to us to cultivate and appreciate our chosen family. We celebrated Thanksgiving with a variety of old and new friends, some of whom are regular parts of our family's life. Waylon was the "MC" who asked everyone "what are you thankful for?"
Waylon is five years old, so he's very excited to help us create new traditions, and he loves ritual. Last Christmas Eve, we decided to roast marshmallows outside on our chiminea (again, a Texas thing), and Waylon's really looking forward to doing that again this year.
6. During this holiday season, what are some things that you are giving thanks for?
I am really grateful for all of my many communities: feminist, queer, activist, artistic, religious. As I grow into my late 30s, I see so many people my age becoming less and less connected. I am thankful for the skills to find and make community, and I am thankful to my wife, because she is one of the people who helped me nurture those skills. Also, I still wake up every day feeling excited that Barack Obama is going to be president for a big chunk of Waylon's formative years.
Check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Rev. Irene Monroe