Pride Week: With Lea DeLaria

On the week of April 1st, Virginia Tech held talks and events to promote Pride Week. This included everyone in the LGTBQ+ community on campus, or what Lea DeLaria refers to as the “alphabet soup”. On Monday night, the famous actor, best known for her role as “Big Boo” on Orange is the New Black, gave a talk on the struggles she has had to face as a lesbian in the entertainment industry, as well as a great comedy performance. Lea DeLaria is a well-known comedian, actress, and jazz singer. She was the first openly gay comic to appear on a late-night talk-show and hosted the first all-gay stand-up comedy special on Comedy Central called “Out There”.

 

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DeLaria during her performance

 

At the beginning of the show, DeLaria asked all the women in the audience to stand up. “…I want to see all of my options”, said DeLaria. She made the show very lighthearted when talking about her past struggles by weaving in the comedic side of who she is, and I think that’s why she has thrived in the entertainment industry. She relates with people through humor, which has become a tactic for her to help others understand where she’s coming from on a relatable level.

She started her show by making sure the environment was accepting and comfortable for everyone in the room by asking the audience to stand up and yell, “I am a lesbian!”. Whether you were or not, she didn’t care. I think this was almost to unify us all in some unorthodox way, but we all laughed at the discomfort we felt and ran with it. 

She ended the night on a comfortable note, but she made sure to inform us of her struggle and the work that still needs to be done in terms of LGBTQ+ equality. She chose to share a story from her time as a young comedian in San Francisco years ago, comparing it to a recent story in a department store from this past year to highlight the progress of where the LGBTQ+ community is, or as she referenced the Queer community for short. Thirty years ago, in San Francisco, she was standing on a street corner during Pride Week waiting for a bus to take her to a comedian show that she would be performing at later that night. Without warning, a man screamed, “Bitch dyke!” and punched her to the ground, breaking her nose, multiple ribs, and leaving her in the hospital for a week. “There were 40 other people from the queer community surrounding the situation who didn’t say or do anything. That was the worst part.” DeLaria said.

30 years later, she experienced a homophobic woman demanding she leaves a public restroom because she looked like a man. “Strangers in that room who didn’t even know me jumped to defend me and I call that true progress,” said DeLaria. 

 

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At the Meet and Greet after the show

 

I believe DeLaria chose to share such a personal story with us because even though there is so much work to be done, there is still progress that has been made. She also shared with us that many of her friends don’t come to college campuses to speak because students are too opinionated, but DeLaria sees it as an opportunity to have a positive conversation with the younger generation about change. 

Her talk was hilarious, heartwarming, and welcoming. I hope that DeLaria chooses to come back to Virginia Tech next year and continues to share her experiences to help make change. I believe conversations like this are extremely important and helpful for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but for everyone. At the end of the day, we all need a little Lea DeLaria in our lives!