By Maria Shah

On Monday, October 7th, 2019, the Rainbow Center held their annual keynote speaker event to kick off LGBTQIA History month. 

This year’s speaker was Jess Guilbeaux, who was featured on Season 3 of Netflix’s hit show, “Queer Eye.” Guilbeaux’s story and strength touched the hearts of many watching at home, and the show gave her a platform to not only be recognized as the “strong, black, lesbian woman,” but also as an advocate and an activist for LGBT+ issues, women’s issues, and issues faced by people of color. 

The common theme in Guilbeaux’s talk was inner confidence and finding one’s own individual identity. She discussed the pressures she faced when it came to her identity as a lesbian. 

“Back in the day when I identified as a lumberjack lesbian, it’s because I thought I had to be that in order for anyone to understnd that I am a gay woman, and even then they didn’t get it. So it was unsuccessful– I literally shaved half my head for that purpose. And so, honestly it was in that moment when I was talking to Tan and trying to explain lumberjack lesbian, I was like, I don’t even know what it is, um, because I just like– I just thought that’s what I needed to do or be and so like, that was the start of the transformation. That was one of the first things that I filmed.”

And she also discussed the intersection with her identity as a black woman. 

“Honestly, like, a lot– I realized that a lot of like, my insecurity about how I looked had to do with the fact that I had no idea how to do my own hair– at all–not even a little bit. Um, Like when I was growing up, like, my mom did my hair for me and so when I didn’t have that anymore I would just– I just let it go, I was like, I don’t know, there’s no one to teach me these things. I didn’t feel confident enough to watch Youtube videos and do it on my own, so I was like it’s just gonna go, if it falls out it falls out (laughs) I don’t know what to do here. I also learned there’s a lot of power in these curls. Uh, so that–I just feel so empowered to have my own hair and to like embrace my really, really tight curls and make them pop. Sometimes I’m just like is this gonna be a huge Afro in the future? Absolutely. Am I gonna grow it out all the time? Yes. Does it make me feel more powerful? Yes. Slightly taller? Absolutely.”

Guilbeaux advised the audience to invest in oneself by either talking to yourself or going to therapy. Many of her stories discussed the revelations she had in therapy and how she was not able to grow into her true identity without coming to terms with the things holding her back in the first place.

“Honestly, I think you just need to have conversations with yourself. Like, the stigma around that being crazy, like sure, fine, if I’m crazy, great, but I love myself, so. But like, you just need to ask yourself why, like, there’s always like, some kind of like, hidden reason as to why we feel the way that we feel. Um, that’s what I learned a lot in therapy you know.

“I have not met a single person who does not need therapy. Definitely do it. Talk to your friends about doing it. Um, write a journal if you don’t feel comfortable finding a therapist. If you don’t necessarily have the funds to find a therapist. Like, journal, find people who have the emotional energy to hear you and listen to you.”

Guilbeaux also kept the conversation light, upadting the audience on on her relationships with the Queer Eye guys, her love of Paramore, and her involvement in drag. 

“‘Give me your phone number you have to trust me.’ and I was like, who else am I gonna– of course I trust you with my phone number, like, you’re Antoni. And so, um, I responded with my phone number and he was like, ‘Cool, call you in a sec,’ calls me like, ‘I have a surprise for you.’ And I said ‘Cool, uh, what’s the surprise?’  as if I was not already accustomed to surprises from this man, and he like hung up and I got another facetime and it was the drummer from Paramore, and I just wept— and that’s the story.”

“Like, honestly, every moment with them is groundbreaking. Like, I feel like every moment with them is so cool and I learn so much more about who they are and what it takes and how much they give to the show and people, like, I could not do what they do, it’s a lot like, I learned about that too.”

After the keynote, it was clear that Guilbeaux’s story resonated with many students. Despite the event ending, she was open to taking as many photos as she could, as well as listening to the stories of those who felt they were in a similar position. 

Jess Guilbeaux’s talk was inspiring and motivating. Guilbeaux’s passion for service and activism was admirable and her message, be yourself to find your identity, was something everyone could relate to. 

Jamiah Bennett, a senior, spoke of relating to Guilbeaux’s identity and struggles as a black woman.

“I really, really appreciated, obviously she talked about her hair a lot which is something super important to me. Like, I’ve also gone through that journey of like, embracing natural hair and uh, just accepting myself as a black woman with natural hair when that’s often not accepted. I did have the whole like, perm and straight hair um, thing going for a while so switching was interesting, so it was nice to see someone else who’s also gone through that journey and embraces all that she is.”