This June, Kern County witnessed a variety of Pride festivities that celebrated and honored the LGBTQ+ experience. During many of these staple local events, community members could find an up-and-coming leader Dom Joseph — a special education teacher, and small art business owner.
Recently Joseph was featured in the Bakersfield Museum of Art’s Faces of Pride exhibition that is being displayed throughout the month of June.
“I thought it was a really beautiful opportunity to put myself out there as a non-binary person and someone in the community. Somewhere like Bakersfield, there’s not a lot of representation,” Dom continued to state that it was special to be a part of the art exhibition.
Joseph also participated in events as a supportive spectator. Art shows like this month’s Manifesto Cuir exhibit by a McFarland artist named Brianna “Bri” Santaella were attended by Joseph and promoted on their social media. They spoke on the importance of queer visibility in the community, and showing up for each other.
“If I hadn’t met the people that I met I wouldn’t have known that there was even a Pride fair, or that we had drag shows, or that there was anything in terms of Pride,” Joseph stated.
They continued to explain that their friends who identify as queer did not always feel safe attending Pride events. Although there is an abundance of LGBTQ+ joy surrounding Pride some avoid it due to fear of their safety. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) just made history after it announced that the United States is in a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. Most concerns are in response to the growing number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation plus an increase in violence against the community, according to HRC.
Fear does not stop Joseph though. They continue to express themselves through provocative art that incorporates real menstrual blood or the decaying bones of animals found in nature. And during the week Joseph adorns themselves with garments that speak to their true style while also respecting professional boundaries.
“I work in the public school system, and it’s honestly kind of difficult. When I’m not in my work setting it’s really easy for me to be open about my gender identity. When I go in to work I dress the way that I want, I express my gender the way that I want within the means of professionality,” said Joseph.
Unfortunately, at work, Joseph is constantly identified as the incorrect gender. They described having acceptance with the surrounding individuals misunderstanding their nonbinary gender, but that they wish there was more education on the topic in general.
Joseph doesn’t fear termination due to their gender or sexuality, but they have concerns about the harsh environment students can find themselves in if they identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
“Queer people, we’re definitely in a revolutionary era in terms of trying to be visible, heard, and seen,” Joseph said. “People are standing up for themselves, but we’re also in a time where there is so much more opposition and people are so comfortable expressing that opposition.”
According to Joseph opposition can be seen heavily on social media and through the way the media depicts news about LGBTQ+ issues. The recent and consistent anti-LGBTQ+ laws had Joseph alarmed.
“If you sat down and talked to somebody without seeing them, no predisposition to who they were or to their identity, you’d probably like that person. Just because you’re living in ignorance you feel like you have to hate someone just because of an aspect of themselves- it’s so bizarre to me,” explained Joseph.
It continues to be important to share and respect each other’s cultural, religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender identities. It’s at the intersection of where the communities’ collective identities meet that there can be more understanding and action based on informed consent.
“I’m multiracial. I am nonbinary, and I am fem-presenting. You look at me and you see a Black person. I’m sure most people would say a Black woman because I’m fem-presenting, and predominately that’s the way it is. These identities intersect, and there’s micro-aggressions for a lot of things,” said Joseph.
Because of Joseph’s experiences June is full of key events and holidays like Pride, Juneteenth, and Men’s Mental Health Awareness.
“It’s nice we have [Juneteenth] off, but it’s also really significant. This is Black Americans Independence Day, it should be as widely celebrated as July 4th,” stated Joseph.
Tips from Joseph to avoid mental and physical fatigue this month and throughout the year is to detach from social media when a break is needed. Instead, try intaking daily social media and news alerts in short bursts and only from trusted sources that have your mental well-being in mind. Speak up in a capacity that you are comfortable with, and equip yourself to handle both the support and backlash.
“I wish that there was education to provide visibility and to show the younger generations and people growing up in this world that it’s not weird, gross, or uncommon- we’ve existed. Queer people have existed since the beginning of time,” Joseph said.