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On Friday, November 16, 2018, fourteen Columbus area residents will become part of the TEDxColumbus community when they present their talks for On the Edge.

 

Meet Ronald Murray:

Voguing demonstration will bring glimpse of house and ballroom culture to TEDx stage

 

By Wendy Cornett

 

This summer, producer Ryan Murphy’s FX drama Pose brought the underground house and ballroom scene to the surface and showcased an unprecedented number of transgender actors as series regulars. One of Columbus’ own curators of house and ballroom will share his perspective — along with a demonstration — of this vital, life-affirming culture.

 

Social worker Ronald G. Murray is also known to some as Father Ron “drama” Xclusive Lanvin. Since 1993, Murray has gone from active participant to respected leader in the house and ballroom community, which serves as a sanctuary for LGBTQ people of color who are ostracized by their birth families.

 

“This underground community existed because there were individuals who were rejected by their regular families because they came out as gay,” Murray explained. “They found commonalities among one another, and they started creating their own families, and they called these families ‘houses.’ Back then, you essentially stayed in the house with the people who were part of your family because you had no place else to go.”

 

At just 44, Murray is already preparing to assume the mantle of family elder to fill a void in the black gay population.

 

“In the black gay community, there aren’t many elders due to HIV/AIDS decimating an entire generation of our society,” he said, adding that few black gay men make it to their 50s. “One reason I stay involved in ballroom is that it allows me to connect with the younger generation and role model how to be a professional man.”

 

The family-like structures within the houses — complete with mother and father figures, sisters and brothers — provide, among other benefits, an atmosphere of inclusiveness and empowerment. Competitions (called balls) allow family members to express their truest selves in safe, supportive surroundings, while competing for prizes in different categories, one of which is voguing.

 

“Voguing became popular in the mainstream communities when Madonna created a song regarding it, but we’ve been voguing in our communities since the 1970s,” Murray noted.

 

To give the TEDx audience a live look at the energy and talent on display during a competition, Murray’s presentation will include a voguing demonstration courtesy of house and ballroom community participants.

 

Along the way, Murray will share his insights into the history and culture of house and ballroom, the uniqueness of it, and the importance of it for those who depend upon it for survival.

 

“Today, there are house and ballroom members who are doctors, lawyers, social workers,” he added. “We are writers; we are choreographers; and these are things that we wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the ballroom community.”

 

Ronald G. Murray is a community leader with more than 15 years of training, education advocacy, counseling and social work experience beginning as a youth HIV/AIDS advocate consultant. He also is the founder and CEO of P.E.A.C.E. of Mind, LLC, a consulting agency that provides personal and professional development and education on the issues surrounding LGBTQ people of color.

 

Murray also has been an active participant and leader in the underground house and ballroom culture since 1993. He is committed to educating others about and advocating for this community as a safe and worthy conduit for local and national outreach, education, support and visibility. Additionally, Murray is a licensed social worker and chemical dependency counselor with a master’s degree in public administration. He lives in Columbus.

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On Friday, November 16, 2018, fourteen Columbus area residents will become part of the TEDxColumbus community when they present their talks for On the Edge.

 

Meet Edith Espinal:

After a year in sanctuary, local, undocumented immigrant wants to ‘keep fighting for my family’

 

by: Cheryl Forcina

 

Last October, Edith Espinal entered the Columbus Mennonite Church in Columbus’ Clintonville neighborhood seeking refuge from the government’s deportation policies. A year later, the fight in her hasn’t waned; it’s only been strengthened by family, community and time.

 

When the kitchen inside the Columbus Mennonite Church isn’t already bubbling with activity, Edith Espinal uses it to cook for her family.

 

“My kids, they like anything I cook,” she said, a proud mom.

 

But it’s after dinner, during the quiet of weekend evenings when the family settles into the night’s movie, that truly transports Espinal outside the church’s four walls.

 

“When we’re watching movies, I’m not thinking I’m here in the church,” she said. “I feel like I’m home when my family is here.”

 

It’s been one year since Espinal’s new normal—as an undocumented immigrant living in the church-turned-sanctuary. Faced with deportation last fall amid headline-grabbing issues like ICE detainment practices and the government’s hardline stance on immigration, Espinal drew community support, particularly from the Clintonville church and its congregation.

 

“It was very difficult the first days or months,” she said of being in sanctuary. During this time, one of her sons endured surgery for appendicitis and—like any sick child—asked for his mother. “This scared me because I couldn’t stay with him,” she recalled. “I felt like I was going crazy because I didn’t know what was going on with my son. Any mom (would feel) like that.”

 

In the year that has followed, Espinal’s resolve has only intensified as she absorbs all the behind-the-scenes efforts toward her freedom.  “I’m learning every day … how to organize, do events and rallies,” Espinal continued. “I want to know, how’s my case? How can we organize better?”

 

All the while, the Columbus mom’s day-to-day—which includes morning visits from her daughter to help her youngest get ready for school—helps give the Espinals a semblance of, well … a normal routine.

 

In the meantime, her fight continues. And Espinal is nowhere near giving up. “I feel like I can do this; it’s made me strong, and the support of community has made me strong,” she said. “I know now where I’m going: to get legal status for me and my family.”

 

Edith Espinal had been living in Columbus with her husband and three children for 20 years before the threat of deportation led her to seek sanctuary in October 2017 at the Columbus Mennonite Church. She first came to the U.S. with her father as a 16-year-old trying to escape drug cartel violence on the streets of her native Mexico. Espinal later petitioned for asylum on behalf of her family; it was denied in 2015. Early last year, all her appeals were denied, and in August 2017, she was ordered to leave the country. She urges other undocumented immigrants to “keep fighting. If we don’t fight for ourselves, no one else will do it for us.” Get updates on Espinal’s continued fight against deportation on Facebook’s Solidarity With Edith Espinal page.

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 On Friday, November 16, 2018, fourteen Columbus area residents will become part of the TEDxColumbus community when they present their talks for On the Edge.

 

Meet Liv Gjestvang:

Local parent shares an inspiring story of a growing family circle

 

By Wendy Cornett

 

Assisted reproduction can be an intensely personal and powerful experience. Sharing the gift of family with someone who needs help requires iron-clad mutual trust. One Columbus woman reveals her remarkable journey as both receiver and giver of the ultimate gift.

 

Three years ago, Liv Gjestvang took a monumental leap of faith. She had to trust the medical procedure that would lead to her conceiving a child; trust her body to do everything it was supposed to do to grow a healthy baby; and trust her own resolve to withstand – both physically and emotionally – that moment of separation, when the child she carried and delivered would go to live with another couple.

 

“Julie and I had already had two kids,” Liv shared, referring to her partner. “It was clear we didn’t want to raise another child, but I had really enjoyed being pregnant.”

 

Liv and Julie had welcomed their two children with the help of sperm donors – friends Mark and Erik, who had their two daughters with the help of a surrogate, Wen.

 

“I had been really touched by seeing Mark and Erik have their two girls and knowing that, Wen, helped them have a family because it was something that she believed in,” Liv recalled. “It was a really powerful thing for me to see what that looked like for her to be pregnant and give them the gift of family – twice. And it stuck with me.”

 

So when friends living in Amsterdam were ready to expand their family, the seed of inspiration that had been planted while watching Mark and Erik’s family grow was ready to surface.

 

“This was something that I had wanted to do for a really long time,” Liv said. “It was somewhat surprising to me the level of emotion it elicited in people I talked to. I could see it resonating – the power in being able to give a family to people who couldn’t do it on their own.”

 

While Liv’s desire to help another couple start a family grew organically out of her life experiences, the process itself was a journey through the unknown.

 

“There were moments when I remember feeling like I was going up that first hill on a roller coaster. I was pregnant. I was having a baby. This was going to happen. There was no getting off,” she said candidly. “The only way through this was to go all the way through it.”

 

Liv and Julie now share living, breathing bonds with two other couples who comprise their extended family. The unshakable trust that brought them together paved the way to profound joy and gratitude.

 

“This process has given us more than a baby,” Liv reflected. “It has expanded our family in a bigger way that I think we all truly value.”

 

Liv Gjestvang moved to Columbus from Brooklyn in 2002 and has spent her career working in education, technology and the arts. As Associate Vice President for Learning Technology at Ohio State, she leads educational technology initiatives, including the Affordable Learning Exchange and Digital Flagship. 

 

She has taught film and video at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Taos Talking Pictures and the Sundance Film Festival, and is founding director of Youth Video OUTreach, where she worked with gay and lesbian high school students to create the award-winning documentary 20 Straws: Growing Up Gay. 

 

Liv also is co-director of the Educause Learning Technology Leadership Institute and has written and presented about community media, social justice, college affordability and transformative leadership across the United States.

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