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Activists Beverly Gooden & Geena Rocero Discuss Representation, Love, & More In Virtual Q&A

Penn State’s Student Program Association (SPA) hosted social rights activists Beverly Gooden and Geena Rocero for a virtual Q&A session and lecture Tuesday evening.

The event was sponsored by Penn State’s Gender Equity Center and served as a part of the organization’s upcoming lectures during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It was moderated by Rebecca Geiger, the assistant director of the Gender Equity Center.

Beverly Gooden is a women’s rights activist and domestic violence awareness activist best known for creating the viral hashtag #WhyIStayed in 2014 and founding the Ella Mae Foundation.

Geena Rocero, meanwhile, is a model who went viral in a 2014 Ted Talk where she came out as transgender. She is also the founder of the production company Gender Proud, a company that aims to increase representation for the transgender community.

The two spoke on a handful of topics including representation in mainstream media, helping people in abusive relationships, race, identity, and the meaning of love.

Both speakers began by telling their stories of hope and perseverance. Gooden, a domestic violence survivor, talked about how her experience in an abusive relationship and her views on the abuse changed over time.

She also shared how her stance on domestic violence and abusive relationships helped others by sharing their stories on social media.

“I started to tweet a few things and hashtagged them ‘#WhyIStayed’ because my pastor told me ‘God hates divorce,’ and somewhere in the realm of 200,000 people also joined in tweeting their stories and tweeting their support of survivors,” Gooden said.

Rocero shared her struggles of being a transgender person of color and of Filipino heritage.

“In our culture in the Philippines, we have a very mainstream culture of transgender beauty pageants that exist in the very conservative cultural background,” Rocero said. “At 15 years old, my life changed when a trans woman acknowledged something in me. She invited me to join a trans pageant and from 15 to 17, I became one of the most prominent trans beauty queens in the Philippines.”

The two spoke about what to do to help a person who may be in an abusive relationship.

“Respecting the fact that sometimes survivors aren’t ready to leave and not wanting to force anything unless they’re in danger and giving them space to figure that out,” Gooden said. “I think it’s also important to give them a soft place to land.”

Rocero also touched upon the suicide rate among transgender youth in America.

“Forty percent of trans youth attempt suicide, which is nine times the national average,” Rocero noted. “I remember asking myself what else I can do in my community for anyone who is experiencing that.”

To end their event, Gooden and Rocero offered their views on love and how they’d define it these days.

“That’s a hard question. It’s changed for me so much over the last 10 years. I used to define love in a way that centered the lover, it didn’t even center me, it centered him. And I think I’d do that differently now,” Gooden said. “Now, love for me, is gentle. Love for me is mature and understanding.”

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About the Author

Charles Reinert

Charles Reinert is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He's from Norristown, PA and enjoys a good slice of pepperoni pizza and a brisk fall afternoon. He can be found either yelling at the Eagles through the TV during football season or playing his guitar. If you have any questions for him or want to challenge him to a 1v1 on the basketball court, you can follow him on Twitter @charles_rein10 or email him at [email protected]

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