Story by Lauren Epperson, Contributing writer
Regie Cabico recalls standing on a stage in a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. 20 years ago. He said he remembers smiling and welcoming the men and women in the audience as he announced the evening program.
“We’re going to have a queer open mic poetry slam,” Cabico said. “Everyone is welcome, so please join.”
At the word “queer,” it was as if he had smacked a panic button as people rose from their seats to bolt for the exit. Two decades later, now a nationally recognized poetry slam artist, Cabico still faces the same reaction to the word “queer.”
Murray State’s LGBT Programming brought Cabico to the Curris Center on Aug. 20 for its Mocktails Slam, providing a safe place for students to perform and enjoy spoken-word artistry while practicing responsible drinking.
Jody Cofer-Randall, the LGBT program coordinator and Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) program coordinator, recruited Cabico to speak at Murray State.
Cabico spent his time in Murray doing interviews for the local radio station and teaching workshops in creative writing, focusing on slam poetry.
“I am a pioneer of the genre of performance poetry and slam poetry,” Cabico said. “A lot of what I do is performing and teaching the work, and what I most often see is that students don’t get that poetry can be fun. It’s performing your own gospel truth. This generation is getting that more than those before it.”
The event was a success, with a turnout of more than 100 students. These students were given the opportunity to observe and participate in interactive poetry readings by both Cabico and Constance Alexander, a professor in the department of English and philosophy.
The Mocktails Slam also featured students’ personal readings on a wide range of issues: religion, home life, relationships and social-injustices.
Matt Hahnes, a sophomore from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, won the poetry slam, which was judged by a panel of Murray State professors and affiliates.
This event gave students the opportunity and platform upon which to begin and expand conversations about LGBT issues within the Murray State community.
“This event will help students to open up to having conversations about LGBT issues in a creative, healthy and positive manner,” Katherine Summerfield, senior from Louisville, Kentucky, said.
Victoria Martin, sophomore from Central City, Kentucky, agreed that this is one more step toward a more open conversation.
“We’re making great progress … but I believe that we could definitely do more,” she said.
The University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Northern Kentucky University and Murray State are the only four universities in Kentucky that have LGBT support groups.
However, progress within the LGBT community in Kentucky institutions of higher education is being made.
“There’s a lot of national attention and progress being made, such as the recent institution of marriage equality,” said Abagail French, director of the Women’s Center. “It’s important that we continue to work towards progress like that in all aspects. A lot of what we do (at the Women’s Center) is to prepare students to deal with life after college. We want to provide LGBT with a platform to give students hope that they’ll have support in their lives.”
The Mocktails Slam brought students of different races, religions and gender affiliations together to openly discuss opinions and experiences concerning a variety of issues.
One student focused on his experiences with bullying in high school. One student focused on her parents’ reaction to her gender identity.
Another student focused on the trials of LGBT students, including homelessness and homophobia.
Several participants said they hoped this event would lead to a larger community acceptance of LGBT students.
“I think people are scared at Murray,” Cabico said. “I think that really speaking up and speaking who you are, is a scary thing. If our freshmen and new students can hear queer students on the mic, maybe they can feel acclimated to being themselves.”