From left to right: Tre'vell Anderson, insiders Annie Phun (junior, Gabrielino), and Lily Richman (junior, Brentwood) prepare to start their tour of the Festival of Books.
Brentwood School

Teens discuss queer representation at Festival of Books with Tre’vell Anderson

Insiders travelled around The LA Times Festival of Books on April 21 with Tre’vell Anderson, a LA Times film reporter who specializes in black and queer coverage. Discussing queer representation at the festival and in modern art mediums, Anderson reflected on his experience as a queer and black journalist in today’s age and the important role that the media plays in shaping the lives of queer youth.

“You don’t know that you can succeed or that you can thrive unless you see someone else doing it,” Anderson said.

At the festival, the only overt LGBTQ symbols we spotted were two rainbow pride flags flying at the It Gets Better booth in the Young Adult section.

It Gets Better, founded by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, supports LGBTQ youth by providing resources and sharing uplifting stories of self-acceptance. The booth had copies of “Boy Robot” by Simon Curtis, “Queer, There, and Everywhere” by Sara Prager, and “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living,” edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller to passersby and donors.

As we walked through the rest of the festival, Anderson discussed the effect queer literature can have on a teenager, and stressed the helpful role it can play in helping one discover their identity. Lamenting that he had lacked the queer resources he needed while growing up, Anderson hopes that the increasing amount of LGBTQ representation in contemporary literature will positively impact future generations. As an adult, Anderson cited James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, among others, as having been particularly transformative.

“Reading is one of the ways that marginalized communities can actually see themselves,” Anderson considered. “[A person] may not see [themselves] in the movie theatres or on TV, but [they] can pick up on a character in a book that has been coded to be queer, whether or not they’re expressly queer.”

However, Anderson also noted that while this increased representation has been positive, he wishes to see even more pride flags and conspicuous LGBTQ symbols at the Festival of Books in the future.

“I don’t know how many LGBTQ people are here or [how many] queer brands are represented here. What I do know is that I can’t see it,” Anderson said. “If I were to change something for next year, I would empower these brands and these people to feel like they can have glitter shooting out from their tent — if they want to — in order to attract a community and let people know that there’s a safe space for them here as well.”

Yet, Anderson mused that the relative lack of LGBTQ pride paraphernalia might also be seen as a positive, potentially signifying that queerness had been enveloped into the festival rather than concentrated in a single area. He expressed happiness that queer characters, artists, performers, and average people have grown prominent in the media, providing young adults with role models with whom they can relate.

“We’re in a moment right now where diversity, inclusion, [and] representation is on the tips of everybody’s tongue,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen some great moments with ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Love, Simon,’ [and] ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’”

As a film journalist, Anderson has had a front-row seat to the ever-evolving emphasis on diversity in the movie industry. He views his role as vital to bringing marginalized, under-represented stories to the forefront of readers’ attentions.

“[Journalists are] supposed to be the first draft of history. The problem with that, historically, is that black and brown folks, LGBTQ folks, poor people, [and] disabled folks haven’t been included in those conversations,” Anderson said. “For me, it is about representing black folks at the Times, representing queer folks at the Times … I hope that, in the work that I’m doing, I am shifting the focus and passing the microphone to communities that aren’t typically able to speak for themselves.”

The LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement has advanced the rights and visibility of LGBTQ Americans significantly. Right now, we are in the midst of cultural change. More than ever before, queer people are approaching equality, but progress has the unfortunate tendency to regress.

“We gotta work on that,” Anderson said.

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