Asheville Qfest celebrates LGBTQ history month

by Noor Al-Sibai – Staff Writer – [email protected]
“Keep Asheville Queer” is not just a slogan anymore.
Last week, the Fine Arts Theatre hosted Asheville QFest, the region’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer film festival. The festival featured films that ran the gamut from the romantic dramas and festival favorites I Want Your Love and Mosquita y Mari, to the documentaries Mississippi, I Am, which chronicles the lives of out celebrities such as N*SYNC’s Lance Bass, and I Stand Corrected, which shows the life of jazz bassist Jennifer Leitham, who is a transwoman.
Sponsored by organizations such as Hip Replacements Boutique, 98.1 The River and O. Henry’s gay bar, the festival was held from Oct. 7 through last Sunday, with additional screenings of spotlight films, such as the critically-acclaimed film Keep The Lights On and I Do this week.
The event coincided with October as LGBT History Month and International Coming Out Day last Thursday, an internationally-recognized “holiday” aimed at raising awareness and visibility for queer people, particularly those coming out of the closet.
Although the events were synchronized, some within the local queer community feel they are aimed toward different demographics.
Kate Williams, a 24-year-old sociology student and active member of the Asheville queer scene said there is a disconnect between the more established “mainstream” LGBT community and the younger queer movement.
“I understand that it’s hard being young,” Williams said. “I sometimes think that they don’t remember what it’s like.”
Williams, originally from Efland, said the crusade for gay marriage purported by the older, more financially stable LGBT community is more assimilationist and focuses less on issues such as homelessness and mental health issues among queer youth.
“I think that the age gap between the older and younger generations is a problem,” Williams said.
Both Williams and Cass Boehm, another sociology student, agree the use of the term “queer” for the festival and to describe those who it caters to might be problematic.
“Queer is anti-assimilationist at it’s core,” said Boehm, 22. “There’s a big schism between the ‘gay’ community and the ‘queer’ community, between the age differences and the differences in identity.”
Boehm and Williams defined assimilationist as focusing on assimilating into straight culture and acquiring legal marriage, rather than resisting a system that attempts to disenfranchise people who are not privileged.
William defined her queer, sexual and gender identities as essential to her life.
“Queer, to me, is about anti-assimilation,” Williams said. “It’s saying ‘I see these structural, holistic problems with heteronormative (straight-privileged) culture, and I’m not OK with them.’”
Despite their criticism of the gap between older and younger members of the queer movement, Boehm said QFest is important for visibility within the greater Asheville community, and hopefully within society as a whole.
On the topic of International Coming Out Day and LGBT history month, Boehm, who spoke on the Coming Out panel last week on campus, said there is political value in having a distinguished day and month for LGBTQ people.
“I think it’s awesome, and it’s amazing that it exists,” Boehm said, “but I worry that it simplifies the idea of coming out in the minds of people who don’t have to. It’s not like you just come out and you’re done with it.”
Boehm used the metaphor of a revolving door to explain their experience with coming out.
They  described the analogy as a person going in and out of the closet, with other people occasionally trying to push them back in or all the way out, and it is a continuous, difficult process.
Williams agreed International Coming Out Day and LGBTQ history month are problematic because those events engage in the process of “othering,” which is a product of an us versus them mentality.
“Having our own month and day is very insulting,” Williams said. “Traditionally, giving a history month to minorities or marginalized groups is a way to excuse the non-incorporation of their history into ‘normal’ history.”
“You never really leave the closet behind,” Williams said. “That’s a problem with society, not with us.”
Both Boehm and Williams said that, despite the issue of ignorance surrounding LGBTQ issues other than marriage equality, Asheville is a uniquely safe space for queer people.
“You get the sense that there are a ton of non-queer, non-LGBTQ organizations propping up queer communities and making their organizations safe spaces for queer people,” Boehm said. “While that’s great, it gives us the sense that there’s not that much left to do, and there is.”
Boehm cited issues such as limited and minimal access to hormone therapy and other medical resources for trans individuals as one of the biggest problems left to tackle within queer communities.
“There’s so much left to do,” Boehm said. “I’m glad that events like QFest and International Coming Out Day exist as a step in the right direction.