“No Straight Lines”: How the New SJU LGBTQ+ Center Fosters Community

On Mar. 17., 2022, the LGBTQ+ center — the newest addition to St. John’s after being formed in 2021 — sponsored a film screening of “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics.” The film focused on the queer comics industry, and was directed by Vivian Kleiman. A Q&A session with Kleiman and advisor Dr. Ramzi Fawaz followed. The event was led by co-directors of the LGBTQ+ Center, Dr. Candice Roberts and Dr. Shanté Paradigm Smalls and contained both virtual and in-person viewers. 

“No Straight Lines” tells the story of five cartoonists who paved the way for queer comics. The movie addresses everything from the AIDS crisis to the heavy emotions and experiences involved in coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The film tells the personal stories of each cartoonist and how the queer comics industry got its roots and continues to grow. 

“I really appreciate the intersectionality displayed in the film. It shows that identity is a very complex and layered phenomenon, that none of us are only one thing, and we take that same perspective at the Center,” said Roberts. “I was especially excited to hold this screening of ‘No Straight Lines’— a documentary featuring a wide range of queer artists and creators, made by a lesbian woman filmmaker.” 

The LGBTQ+ center was created to “create and sustain an open and welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and employees,” according to the University website. It held its first event of the academic year on Thursday, Feb. 24 in Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.

I truly enjoyed watching the film, because I learned so many new things about an industry I did not know existed. Listening to the cartoonists’ stories fascinated me as well as how many obstacles each person continues to overcome. It was also amazing to see how many of the cartoonists achieved mainstream success. Alison Bechdel, for instance, wrote the book “Fun Home,” which is now a Tony Award winning musical.

Events like these are the heart of the LGBTQ+ Center. Roberts and Smalls deeply care about these issues and having a center where queer students can feel affirmed and represented at school. They also educate students like myself in issues we may not be aware of. 

Roberts affirms these beliefs. “The pursuit of knowledge is central to every college student’s experience, and in order to follow that pursuit, all of our human needs must be met,” said Roberts. “The Center is one way that we can help meet a wider range of needs for every St. John’s student. The Center aligns with the Vincentian aim of providing opportunity for communities that may be marginalized — including students, faculty, staff, and community partners.”

Walking out of the event, I realized this film-screening held a much greater purpose than learning about queer comics. A community of like-minded individuals meeting together, in an age where in-person gatherings are slowly reemerging, over a topic we all learned a little bit more about holds incredible importance to a community’s social infrastructure and development into a more inclusive space. When talking to Dr. Roberts, they stressed the importance of community in sharing a common experience, which I think we all need right now. The center will be creating more ‘in person’ programming in the future, while remaining conscious of accessibility, according to Roberts. 

Stay up to date with the SJU LGBTQ+ Center by following their Instagram. The LGBTQ+ Center is also looking for undergraduate student workers/federal work study students. Interested parties can contact [email protected] including a paragraph of interest and resume.