Memphian Kal Dwight is easily one of the most active young people involved in the local fight for LGBTQ rights. At age 21, he's already a veteran of the equality movement, having co-founded the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center's Gen Q group for college-aged LGBTQ people and their allies. Gen Q offers a place for young people to socialize and get active in the fight for equality.
On March 12th, Gen Q members will be in Nashville taking part in the Tennessee Equality Project's "Advancing Equality Day on the Hill," an annual day of lobbying in favor of LGBTQ-friendly bills and lobbying against those bills that would harm gay people and families. Kal took a few minutes to chat with the Flyer about Gen Q, activism, and his undying love for Elton John.
Flyer: Why did you help start Gen Q?
Kal Dwight: Originally, when my best bro Ray and I started it, we were 19 and too young for the bars. This was before Spectrum (gasp!). But we knew we wanted to be involved. We also knew that there were others like us. There isn’t much to do in Memphis if you’re under 21, whether you’re gay or straight. If you’re not in college or a church youth group, it’s hard to go out and meet people. So we started in early 2010 at the MGLCC.
What's the goal of the organization?
To create a healthier, safer environment for young adults while strengthening the local gay-straight alliances (GSA). We meet every Friday, and we reserve the second Friday of every month specifically for college GSAs to come and create events together.
You're currently fundraising to take Gen Q to Nashville for "Advancing Equality on the Hill Day." Why take the group?
Memphis young LGBTQA people rarely get a chance to go to Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) events in Nashville because of the cost and distance. Every year that I have been, it has been all Middle Tennessee kids and other adults. It’s time for our presence. I also hate being the youngest person at every event, so I’ve made it my mission to target young adults to get more involved. I can’t honestly keep bitching about it unless I do something. As for our fundraising goal, I think we’ve almost reached it. People keep donating every day.
Are there any particular bills in the state legislature that you're very concerned about?
I am always concerned with the “Don’t Say Gay" bill [Senator Stacey Campfield's bill that would ban discussion of homosexuality in grades K through 8]. I can’t wait to be rid of that one for good. Not only is it a threat to our kids, it makes us look so bad in Tennessee!
You're probably the most active young person in the LGBTQ equality movement in Memphis.
Haha … I am older than Justin Bieber at least! I might be the youngest but not for long.
When did you first get involved in the LGBTQ equality fight in Memphis?
When I moved home from L.A. and decided that this is where I needed to be, specifically for activism. I was all fired up after Prop 8. I knew that I couldn't represent anything I didn't know, and all I know is the Delta. I remember my first trip to the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. I was glad to find a place that I now consider home.
Younger people tend to be more accepting of equality, but are there any issues that you face trying to convince the younger generation to get involved? Is there a lot of apathy?
A lot of the younger people that want to be involved are also involved in a million things. I only see the younger ones who come to me asking for projects to work on. I know that a lot have families and have to sacrifice free time to make a living. However, when my dad was in college, they were demonstrating and picketing everything. They were organizing sit-ins and bus boycotts. Okay, maybe dad isn’t that old but you get the point. We are the future, and this country isn’t going to get better until we MAKE it better.
As a transgender guy in Memphis, have you ever faced discrimination?
I’m very privileged to live in my little gay bubble; I have a very strong support system. It is certainly not a walk in the park for everyone though. Memphis is so far behind on trans issues. We are barely scraping the surface of what other places have already accomplished. Physically and mentally, this is a rough place for anyone who is LGBTQA. My biggest problems often come from within my own community. L’s, g’s, and b’s maybe don’t realize how uneducated they are and how much it hurts. My friend and a trans woman said, “Sometimes it seems that, by being trans, it is assumed that you are an open book or a walking educational seminar.” And I can get impatient.
How do you handle those situations?
I am pretty easygoing with the pronoun problem (people calling me “she” instead of “he”) but if I sense the situation could escalate, I just leave. I don’t have time to deal with jerks these days.
And now for some lighter questions: What's your favorite Memphis restaurant?
So you're pretty much the world's biggest Elton John fan. When did that obsession begin, and how many times have you seen him perform live?
OMG elton!! He's the man of my dreams! I first saw him when I was 13. I have seen him four times since then. And once in London! I think that he and David Furnish (his hubby) are so amazing and I'm so happy that they finally have a family. And yes, I will be seeing him next weekend.
What are you reading right now?
This month’s Rolling Stone. I am about to start [Pete] Townshend’s biography.
If you could be a celebrity for a day, who would you be?
Prince Harry. My dad even agrees.
And what are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
This is the hardest question. I want to be here, but I don’t think I will be. I want to do event coordinating and planning for nonprofits. I hope to be contracted out one day to the big organizations like in D.C. and L.A. But this is only March. It will probably be a different story next month..