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Poet and Activist: LGBTQI+ People Should Talk About Responsibilities Instead of Rights

Charlie Schlenker
Qwo Li Driskill is a Cherokee Two-Spirit poet and writer who teaches at Oregon State. Driskill was the featured speaker at the annual Women's and Gender Studies program symposium at ISU.

An LGBTQI+ poet and scholar looks to indigenous people in North America for broader gender definitions that can help modern society as the current culture struggles over accepting multiple identities.

Qwo Li Driskill of Oregon State University is the featured speaker at Illinois State University's 24th annual Women's and Gender Studies Symposium. Driskill said the term two-spirited or two spirit includes different gender identities and terms amid native peoples in North America and how they functioned in those societies.

"We need to remember that changes don't happen because of those laws. It happens because individuals and their responsibilities change and they have work to do."

“Two spirit people were responsible for handling burials and objects associated with the dead and for births in some traditions and for naming of children. Often people parented children who were orphaned. In some communities people were mediators and counselors, and healers and diplomats,” said Driskill.

Driskill said as LGBTQI+ people have focused on fighting against discrimination. Driskill said it might be productive to focus on the positive work of the roles LGBTQI+ people have in society as a way of asserting the value of people.

“What’s useful about having a conversation about roles and responsibilities is that shifts the framework. We need to move from a rights-based framework to a responsibilities-based framework and stop talking about rights so much. The way that things have been structured and the way that power ends up functioning right now makes us think the government actually has authority/ power. We need to remember that change doesn’t happen because of those laws. It happens because individuals and their responsibilities change and they have work to do,” said Driskill.

Driskill said violence against LGBTQI+ people has increased dramatically in the last two years and there is a shifting and violent backlash against such people, particularly trans women of color and trans women, even higher than what has been documented.

“What I’m hoping over the next two years is that we in our communities continue to take care of ourselves and each other and move forward for justice and social change,” said Driskill.

Driskill said some people thought the struggle was over after marriage equality and actually violence is increasing.

“We need to figure out other kinds of work that needs to take place,” said Driskill.

Driskill was the featured speaker of the 24th annual Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium at the Prairie Room of the Bone Student Center at ISU.

They are a co-founder and member of the Indigenous People’s Interest Group for the National Women’s Studies Association, Driskill has been honored several times for their non-fiction and trans and gender-variant literature.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.