Dr. Jayleen Galarza Shares Her Experience

Photo Credit / Edita Bardhi Keynote Speaker Dr. Jayleen Galarza drew a large crowd at Beers Lecture Hall.

Edita Bardhi

Opinion Editor

Sponsored by ESU’s Gender and Sexuality Center and co-sponsored by the Sociology Social Work, and Criminal Justice Department, and Nu Colors, Dr. Jayleen Galarza, associate professor of social work and gerontology at Shippensburg University, came to ESU as our LGBTQ History Month Keynote Speaker late last month.

Her discussion titled, “My So-Called Queer Latina Life: In Search of Authenticity, Connection, and Justice,” was held in Beers Lecture Hall at 7 p.m.

What does it mean to identify as a queer person of color in today’s social and political climate?

To a full crowd, Dr. Galarza spoke about the concerns many Latinas come across when learning about their true selves as well as how they are viewed by society.

As her title suggests, Galarza shared her personal experiences to discuss this subject matter. She began by sharing how, at the start of a young age, she felt different amongst the rest of her peers.

Often, her skin-tone did not earn her acceptance from the Puerto-Ricans or the Whites. She clarified in her speech that both remarked she was not enough to fit the heritage. She also had the capability to understand, read and write in Spanish, but she was influent in speaking the language. This too was not of help toward finding her identity.

Regardless, Galarza was determined to find herself. Particularly, she aimed to find her space where she felt the most connected.

Her decision to concentrate on that goal and even pursue an education became a difficult task. She first attended EastStroudsburg University and graduated with a degree in English in 2006. Then, she continued her education at Widener University from 2009 to 2013 where she earned her degree in Clinical Social Work (2009) and her M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Human Sexuality (2011, 2013).

Within this time, she continued to face difficulty meeting individuals who were like her. Yet, between the nine years spent at ESU taking classes in high school and later pursuing a degree here, she felt most at home.

“ESU is my home space,” said Galarza.

The nine years spent at ESU led Galarza to realize the meaning of being queer as well as Latina. It first began with Intersexuality.

According to Galarza, she understood that black feminism is examining the dynamics that navigate both identities and spaces of women of color. Particularly, the dynamics examined shows how things are perceived in society.

She also mentioned how the power and experience included in these dynamics are different from each other.

“We are not actually trying to push away our experiences. We are actually trying to own our power and use it as a space of resistance,” said Galarza.

Galarza told her audience that a queer woman of color must speak of many things, not just one. These include heterosexism, homophobia, racism and much more.

Her determination to find herself led to her interest in learning what it meant to be a queer Latina. As she helped her community, she proposed many ideas on the matter; however, they were very much rejected.

This did not stop her. Her determination to find herself encouraged her to speak up. It was clear to Galarza that she would benefit from speaking up, particularly from the Modern-Day Rights Movement.

Throughout this time, Galarza traveled around the area to find individuals like her. Her goal was to gather as much information she could on what it meant to be a queer Latina.

By the end, she found five themes. They include: Influence of Family, Impact of Religion, Navigating Multiple Communities, Politics of Identities and Finding an Authentic Self.

All these were impactful toward queer Latinas. Some sacrificed expressing their gender and sexuality for their families. Particularly, gender, sexuality, authenticity and race were difficult to understand for families, but family was important.

“In Spanish, there is no word for ‘queer.’ So, I am going to say ‘lesbian’ because that makes sense to most people and I can say it. But, it doesn’t quite capture my identity, but that’s okay,” said Galarza.

To Galarza, home space was important. For the longest time, she was able to connect to people through music, food, childhood and story. Yet, she still struggled to connect with other LGBTQ spaces.

Soon after, she realized that she must be careful amongst other individuals. Specifically, her identity could be mistreated, and she and her family would be hurt.

“These are very real things that almost everybody in LGBTQ spaces has to navigate, but especially as a queer person of color you must also contend with homophobia and racism in the community as well,” said Galarza.

Despite her challenges, Galarza has privileges. These privileges include being a sex-gender woman, being a feminism preventing sex-gender woman, speaking ‘white,’ having a Ph.D. and getting a ten-year promotion. All this gives much protection amongst the possible violence.

This led Galarza to her last point: keeping the LGBTQ community safe. She wanted to be certain ESU and all colleges have the resources for this. She then concluded her discussion with, “Find your people.”

By 8 p.m., Beers Lecture Hall was still crowded and ESU students and faculty members were engaged upon the learnings as Q&A began.

One student from the audience asked, “Have you found your space?”

“I feel like an event like this is very important. The topic of sexuality is often overlooked because it’s like, “oh, it talked about LGBTQ Rights are good.’ Just highlighting that there are so many overlaps to someone’s identity. Often, they are not just white, they are also a woman. Or they are not just queer, they are also black,” said Makayla McCloskey, a senior majoring in Early Education.

“For queer Latinas, there is a uniqueness in how folks have to navigate the world in terms of the ways in which they have to manage identities, experiences and negotiate culture. For some people, they would rather find a connection in a cultural ethnic community in predominately LGBTQ spaces. My hope is that there are more spaces and more understandings of people of color and find ways to use their voices,” said Galarza.

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