Thanks to the Exeter College North American Travel Scholarship, I was able to spend a month in New York City interning with Voices4, a non-violent direct-action LGBTQ+ advocacy group. Within hours of arriving, I left my apartment to meet with Adam Eli, the founder of the grassroots group to discuss what I’d be doing to help. It was clear very quickly just how varied my role would be: within an hour the tasks on my to-do list ranged from researching how to apply for 501(c)(3) (read non-profit) status, designing and writing Instagram stories and posts on queer history and current developments within the Voices4 family internationally, helping proofread and structure an introductory document for the newly launched London, Berlin and Madrid chapters of the group and transcribing an interview with Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the only openly gay prince in India.
The most rewarding project I got to work on was helping an anonymous LGBTQ+ teenager from Białystok, Poland, put their experience attending the city’s first pride march into coherent English. The march had been attacked by right-wing extremists and Poland’s LGBTQ+ community was condemned by both the church and government. Writing from my tiny room in a city so synonymous with freedom, alongside a teenager on the other side of the world who was risking their own safety just by speaking to me, I really got a sense of the urgency and seriousness on which Voices4’s activism is founded.
Outside of my work with Voices4, I had a lovely time meeting alumni, who were kind enough to take me out for dinner and really made me feel welcome. I also got the chance to catch up with fellow students from Williams who had all participated in the WEPO programme during my first and second years. In the short time I was in the city, we tried the infamous impossible burger, saw fireflies after dark in Washington Square Park, watched the Democratic Primary debate live, went to a Williams hosted rooftop darty (day-party) in the East Village, saw a free cinema screening in Morningside Park, and found time to see the Whitney Biennial as well as the Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Guggenheim.
When I wasn’t working or seeing the sights, I spent a few afternoons shooting a series of portraits with kids from the city. The people I met ranged from a fashion student who walks in Ballrooms and wants to be a designer, to the kids who skate in Tompkins Square Park, to a non-binary model and designer and their boyfriend and friends. Photos from that project will be on display in the Rector’s Lodgings on 22 November and all Exonians and alumni are very welcome.
Overall, the month I spent in New York thanks to Exeter was incredibly inspiring, teaching me the various ways that people navigate working within creative industries while using their skills to draw attention to the issues they care about. I’ll also take the memories and experiences I made in the city to help me as I prepare to write my dissertation on queer communities and ecocriticism this year.
Campaigners for the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Voices4. Photo by Antonio Perricone