QUEER YOUTH BRIGADE: The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice in its new home on Stockton Street is following up on its successful June Pride Parade with a variety of events for the end of summer and beginning of fall. Launched just last month, the Queer Youth Brigade has taken the lead in planning programming for the LGBTQIA safe space and community activist center. (Photo courtesy of Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice)
By Donald Gilpin
The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRCSJ), in its new headquarters at 12 Stockton Street, is branching out and moving forward on multiple different avenues in the coming weeks and months.
Described by its Chief Activist Robt Seda-Schreiber as “a community activist center, educational bridge, and safe space for our LGBTQIA youth, intersectional families, and all our beautifully diverse communities,” the BRCSJ has continued its programming and welcoming activities — sometimes virtually and sometimes in-person — throughout the pandemic, and has announced a full slate of activities for the end of summer and start of the fall season.
“Out of the Closet — Queer Icons Frank and Chet Present the Great Clothing Giveaway!” will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 20. Frank Mahood, founder of Princeton’s first gay rights organization, Gay People Princeton, almost 50 years ago, and his partner Chet Kabara will be in attendance. The BRCSJ Facebook site describes the event as “a unique opportunity to own a piece of fabulous LGBTQIA history, as our favorite couple share both new and oh-so-slightly used clothes from their various appearances and adventures at Pride events over the years.”
The BRCSJ promises there will be everything “from rainbow slacks to sequined blazers and also for the more fashionably-timid there are bins full of more sedate sweaters, pants, hats, footwear, and all sorts of other stylish pieces to add to your wardrobe.” All items are free of charge, though the organization asks patrons to consider a donation to support the BRCSJ.
“It’s a taste of the fabulous, but it’s also a taste of the everyday,” said Seda-Schreiber. “People can come and get clothes they need or want, and it’s also an opportunity to hear from Frank and Chet — the history, their stories, and to have them be recognized, to celebrate them for all they’ve done.”
On August 27, the Center will be hosting artist, photographer, and BRCSJ board member emeritus Walter Naegle, surviving partner of Bayard Rustin, and commemorating the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington that Rustin organized and led.
Rustin, who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 by Barack Obama, “was not given the recognition he deserved in his lifetime because of who he was and who he loved and the life he lived,” said Seda-Schreiber. He went on to note that Naegle’s visit is “a wonderful moment for our community in understanding history, especially now that more and more history is being erased, more and more books are being banned, more and more people are trying to stop stories from being told.”
In addition to partnering with several other organizations in leading a Day of Action and Rally to Protect Our Democracy on the afternoon of September 17 in Hinds Plaza, the BRCSJ will be hosting two high-profile events in September.
On September 18, the start of Banned Books Week, celebrated North Hunterdon librarian Martha Hickson, who recently received the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, will visit the BRCSJ to speak on “How to Stop Book Banning in Libraries, Schools, and the Greater Community.”
Seda-Schreiber noted that Hickson will present a “dedicated action program for librarians, teachers, students, activists, and other community members to fight back to make sure that books will not be banned in their community.”
Then on Saturday, September 24, the BRCSJ will host a benefit concert featuring Jill Sobule, singer-songwriter of “I Kissed a Girl,” “Supermodel,” and many more socially-conscious hits over the past 32 years.
Programming in October will include visits from acclaimed New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik and graphic artist, journalist, and The Nation’s magazine illustrator Steve Brodner.
Seda-Schreiber emphasized that most events at the BRCSJ are free, and most are available to the general public, with a few events being benefits where donations will be requested but not required. “The Center is first and foremost a community center,’ he said. “Anybody from the community who wants to attend any of our events will always be welcome.”
The BRCSJ opened its doors at its Stockton Street headquarters in March this year, after losing its original home on Wiggins Street at the start of the pandemic and carrying on virtually for two years.
Expressing appreciation to Princeton Alumni Corps, which is located on the second floor of the building, as great partners and landlords, Seda-Schreiber praised all the “incredible volunteers who have come in and in a short time helped us make the space as extraordinary as it deserves to be.”
Momentum at the BRCSJ continued to build throughout the spring as it returned to in-person gatherings and prepared for Pride month and a June 18 Pride Parade that brought more than 3,000 people into the streets of Princeton to celebrate.
The BRCSJ has expanded its social justice library, which now contains more than 1,000 books. Featured titles in the library include works by authors who were featured in the Center’s Social Justice Power Hour, live broadcasting which took place every weeknight throughout the first two years of the pandemic, more than 600 episodes in total, all of which are available on the BRCSJ Facebook archive for interested viewers.
The BRCSJ has continued its relationships with writers, artists, activists, and the celebrities who appeared on the Power Hour, said Seda-Schreiber, and has recently established programs on birth justice to serve and empower women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum process; free and confidential HIV testing; and a popular Queer Youth Brigade.
Seda-Schreiber, citing the spreading monkeypox virus as a major concern both nationally and locally and “right now very impactful to our LGBTQIA community especially,” noted that the BRCSJ has been in communication with the governor’s office and the New Jersey Department of Health.
“We are trying to work with Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center to become a dedicated vaccination site for the community,” he added. “We want to be able to provide the medical assistance and psychological-emotional support so that our community feels safe and comfortable. We’re working hard to make that happen.”
Launched about a month ago, the Queer Youth Brigade includes “young folks from across the spectrum, representing intersectionality in every way you could imagine, across the rainbow,” said Seda-Schreiber, “And they gather together at least once a week.”
He continued, “They also create programming. It’s always better to have the community speak directly to us and tell us what they want, what they need, what would serve them best. They create the programming that they want to be a part of, that would be most impactful, most meaningful, and most enjoyable to them.”
BRCSJ Queer Youth Brigadier Rose Mascoll said, “The BRCSJ Queer Youth Brigade is such a wonderful thing for both me personally as a trans femme navigating my personal journey, but also to tell all our LGBTQIA youth who are looking for a safe space to share their stories and to move forward together. I invite everyone to join us.”
Seda-Schreiber added, “It’s important that individuals in the community know that the Center is somewhere where they are finally part of a larger community, part of a larger idea, part of a larger network where they can feel recognized, respected, heard, and loved.”