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Asala Returns to Andover to Speak About Influence of Media on LGBT Identity

At the age of 17, Spectra Asala left her family in Nigeria to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, from which she graduated in 2000. Asala, an award-winning author, LGBT rights activist and founder of the Boston-based Queer Women of Color (QWOC+ Boston), visited Andover last Friday to speak about empowering the LGBT community in her presentation titled, “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, the Media, and the African/Black Diaspora.” Asala explained how LGBT people can find their identity by sharing their stories through social media. During her presentation, she drew from her work with QWOC and her experience with her blog “Spectra Speaks.” LGBT people of color throughout the U.S. are gradually recovering their own stories of the past by producing videos, blogs and photos that authentically portray their lives, said Asala. By sharing their stories online, LGBT people can also help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes and publicly voice their opinions on LGBT issues. “People nowadays have conversations very publicly. The Internet has created a way of accessing information that is very public. The way we access information has become more different and faster,” Asala said. “Whether you care about feminist issues in an LGBT space or trans issues or being a person of color, it is really important that you have a harbor that is your own and that you create media so that when people do write about you, that you remain the authority on what your life is like and who you are,” she said. “There is an African proverb: ‘Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunter will continue to glorify the hunter.’ And that is very much a core part of my work because people usually write their own history because they have more access and they have more power,” she added. Asala also emphasized the need for wider access to technology. She said that the economic inequality that keeps low-income people from using technology can perpetuate narrow-mindedness in the media. “It is interesting for an activist to get people connected via digital social media. I think media is something we all take for granted and wouldn’t give a second thought. But to think that activism could be, in part, simply giving people those tools is pretty extraordinary to me and speaks to me personally,” said Frank Tipton, Advisor for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues and faculty advisor to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). To help facilitate the connection between media and the stories of the LGBT community, Asala developed her own “afro-feminist” media blog, “Spectra Speaks,” which publishes stories, opinions and news related to gender, culture and the African Diaspora. Asala also founded QWOC+ Boston, the first multicultural LGBT group in New England, according to her blog. The group encourages LGBT activists and nonprofit organizations to employ the publicity of social media in recounting their stories. “Africans and Africa are routinely and frequently infantilized under the guise of selflessness and new age philanthropy; the LGBT movement often sounds like the white gay male marriage fight; feminist perspectives often carelessly leave out women of color; women of color narratives ignore the complexities of the immigrant subset… My blog is the natural response to this nonsense,” wrote Asala on her blog. Asala has a personal connection to her LGBT activism as a double minority. As a Nigerian and a lesbian, Asala said she was often bullied by her classmates while studying abroad. By discovering her own identity and sexuality, Asala found her voice on larger social issues such as feminism, race and gender. “It is always great to have diverse voices from within the LGBT community. Her being able to explore what she’s done and share her experiences becomes really meaningful for the people of GSA,” said Tipton. GSA also invited several students from Northfield Mount Hermon to attend Asala’s presentation last Friday, which was her second visit to Andover. Last February, she spoke at GSA’s “Crossing Boundaries” conference about the intersection of LGBT issues and diversity.