Michelle Chen: Cat Walking to Freedom

drag queen at Upenn drag show backstage portrait

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Posted on May 6, 2015 by Michelle Chen

.

Recently, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBTQ) Center at Upenn hosted one of their most exciting events of the year: the QSA Drag Show.  Getting the opportunity to get backstage and preshow access, I was able to get a unique glimpse into the small, but boisterous community.  The center acts as a home away from home for those sexual and gender minorities at the University of Pennsylvania.  One of the representatives said, “ the Center welcomes those that question their identity, in the process of coming out, or proudly identify as LGBTQ.”

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

drag show makeup back stage

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

 

They offer peer mentorships, safe spaces to study and socialize, and a calendar full of events like this Drag Show.  As one of the oldest and most active LGBTQ, the center hosted events to serve UPenn’s students, faculty, and staff like its Queer Factor week.  One of the participants in the Drag Show, Eric, told me, during the last week of March, they host events that range from learning about LGBT history at Penn, discussions with queer writers, performances by Ulanday Barret who is a disabled pinoy-american transgender poet, chats with a queer pastor, film screenings of “The Normal Heart” that tells the story of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York in 1981, and showcase of research on queer theory.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

transgender student, Upenn

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

I had the opportunity to watch the screening of Mala Mala, which tells the transgender experience and powerful transformation through the eyes of nine trans individuals in Puerto Rico.  As I was watching the film, I looked around me and it was easy to see that all the people in the room were riding an emotional roller coaster as they watched these LGBT advocates fight for their own personal and community acceptance.  Many of these performers themselves have been in through triumphant highs and devastating lows as they lived a life of self-discovery.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

transgender students, Upenn

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

During the drag show, as the participants flaunted and cat walked down the runway, they were not only doing it as part of their character, but also to showcase to the Penn community the problems that LGBTQ communities face and how they need to be united together as friends.  Each of these performers showcased their inner diva, royalty, and their true face at this show.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

transgender student, Upenn

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Photography and Text by Michelle Chen, Copyright 2015

.

About The Author: Michelle Chen is a senior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2015.

Alexis Borden: How the Other Half Lives

portrait of impoverished young black boy in Philadelphia

 

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Posted on May 4, 2015 by Alexis Borden

One of the major problems in Philadelphia is Poverty. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Philadelphians live below the federal poverty level, including 39% of children, 27% of work-age adults and 17% of seniors. The United States is the richest nation, yet millions of Americans live below the poverty line. The word poverty provokes strong emotions and is a topic most people don’t fully understand. Poverty is arguably the most far-reaching, long-standing cause of chronic suffering there is. For a recent assignment, I decided I wanted to take a look at poverty and homelessness. I wanted to get a glimpse into how the “other half” lives. I see homeless people all around UPenn campus and typically when I see them I ignore them but for this project I sought them out.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

poor woman in North Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Poverty has many faces and changes from place to place and can be defined in multiple ways. Most people have a mental image of what they believe poverty and homelessness looks like based on their everyday interactions: a man sleeping on a steam vent, or panhandling for spare change on a street corner. But homelessness, like its causes, varies wildly from person to person and city to city, and touches many people who don’t fit traditional stereotypes. Five decades since President Lyndon B. Johnson began his so-called War on Poverty, poor Americans continue to struggle. Nearly a quarter of people in poverty have jobs, but their pay is so low that they still don’t have enough money to meet basic needs like food, shelter, clothing and health care. About 1,500 families become homeless every year. I visited Project Home on 1515 fairmount avenue and witnessed first hand what great shelters like this can do for people. 

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

impoverished white female Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Poverty takes on a whole new face when it applies to children. Poverty and homelessness hits children the hardest. They need to grow up healthy but a lot of them don’t have this possibility. The worst thing is that hunger doesn’t affect only children’s’ health, but also their development in every way- emotional, physical and spiritual. Children are the most frequent users of emergency shelter, outnumbering adults almost 2 to 1. Although childhood is generally considered to be a time of joyful, carefree exploration, children living in poverty tend to spend less time finding out about the world around them and more time struggling to survive within it. Poor children have fewer and less-supportive networks than their more affluent counterparts do; live in neighborhoods that are lower in social capital; and, as adolescents, are more likely to rely on peers than on adults for social and emotional support.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

african american child Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

african american child Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

boarded up homes, Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Poverty and homelessness has been a consistent problem throughout history. No matter what the median income, unemployment or overall prosperity level is, there will always be people who are homeless and hungry.

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

homeless man digging in the trash, Philadelphia

cuban house painted in pink with rooster out front on the lawn

Photography and Text by Alexis Borden, Copyright 2015

.

About the Author: Alexis Borden is a senior Biology and pre-med major at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2015.