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Ten questions with Dorothy Awards Honoree Fleurette King

Fleurette King has led UConn’s Rainbow Center for nearly a decade, in a period that’s seen the climate at the campus evolve from one that was behind other universities for acceptance and diversity to one of strength. Former Center co-president Tom Donato spoke with King about the Rainbow Center, what inspires her and where she hopes to end up in a few years.

  1. What does it mean to you to receive this Dorothy Award? It is an honor to be chosen as Dorothy Award Recipient. Upon my arrival in CT, I understood how special the Dorothy Awards were. I love that it preserves the legacy and history of CT activists, educators, artists and many others. The Dorothy Awards demonstrates that people from a variety of interests, backgrounds and identities can make social change that many of us benefit from. It is an honor to be affiliated with an award that promotes hope and inspiration for upcoming generations.
  2. Describe the work of the UCONN Rainbow Center. As the Director of the Rainbow Center, my primary responsibility is to assist in the academic mission of UConn and to fulfill the mission of the Rainbow Center. Our mission statement is: The Rainbow Center serves the University of Connecticut’s diverse community of gender identities, gender expressions and sexualities by fostering student personal growth, leadership development, community engagement; and providing resources, services, education, training, and advocacy. My responsibilities include overseeing a 3,800 sq ft center; supervise 26 student staff, 1 graduate assistant, 1 administrative assistant and 2-4 interns; collaborating with 4 other cultural centers and many other campus partners; serve on major committees; host the True Colors Conference; advocate for better policies and procedures; facilitate educational workshop; teach classes; provide educational and social programs; research best practices and current theoretical application; incorporate and network with state and national leaders and colleagues; and contribute to inclusion and social change in higher education.
  3. Who or what inspires you the most? The various social movement histories serve as my greatest inspiration. When I am able to gain honest, inclusive social activism history, it reminds me of how complex and messy it is to work towards social change, and that even if it is difficult during contemporary times, I am making it better for future generations. The good news is that I have been able to see change during my lifetime that seemed unimaginable for my generation.
  4. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the Connecticut LGBT community today? The biggest challenge facing the CT LGBTQIAP+ community today is upgrading our social and state institutions to be accommodating and reflective of our diverse community of gender identities and expressions. There are many practices, facilities and policies that are so outdated. The rigid gender binary existence is repressive and oppressive for many in our state. We need to work with other social movements to accomplish some of the goals to eradicate this challenge.
  5. Is it important to you to stay connected with young people through your work at UCONN? Why? I believe it is important to stay connected with young people through my work at UConn because they are the future and they offer insight and fresh approaches to our work for equality, freedom, respect and unity. I learn from my students and younger people on a daily basis. At some point, even effective strategies can become antiquated and ineffective to a new generation.
  6. What do you love the most about your job? What I love most about my job is student development. As a higher education professional, I have an opportunity to see a student’s development from their entry into UConn to graduation. It is extremely rewarding to see how they become involved on campus and the movement, develop their intersecting, multiple social identities and overcome a number of obstacles. At the Creating Change Conference in Chicago this January, I was reunited with former students from the current and previous institutions of my career, UConn, University of Michigan, Princeton University and DePaul University. Each person is a respective leader in the LGBTQIP+ movement throughout the country. Several mentioned how I inspired them to do the work and to be themselves. This is very rewarding and humbling.
  7. Tell us about one event in your life that has shaped you the most. One event in my life that has shaped me the most was my participation in the 2006 Chicago Gay Games in Chicago. It was a major event in which I did not feel like I had to “check any identity at the door”, whether it was a social identity such as my sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, race, or size; or role identities as activist, educator, or athlete. While, I managed to obtain a bronze medal in racquetball, I appreciate living in both of my passions in the same space: social justice and sport. I appreciate the history and struggles of the Gay Games. A close second would be my participation in an AIDSRide cycling event on two different occasions, from Twin Cities, MN to Chicago in the early 2000’s. The HIV/AIDS social movement was critical in becoming vocal, active and an ally in a variety of strategies. This included outlets such as activism, education, massage therapy, fundraising and supporting friends living with HIV.
  8. Who would play Fleurette King in the movie about your life? Since there are limited choices in the Actors Guild reflective of me, it would have to be an imaginary combination of Carrie Black from Orange is the New Black and Queen Latifah from movies such Bessie, Set it Off, and the Last Holiday.
  9. What is one thing that everyone can do to improve the climate for LGBT people in this country? Educate to understand our diverse community of sexual and romantic orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions, and how equality, respect, affirmation and acceptance looks unique for each group and individual. This awareness will keep us motivated for the ongoing work we need to do to gain complete equality for everyone. For example, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy has been repealed for gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers, but not transgender and gender non-conforming soldiers. Another example involves taking care of our LGBTQIP+ elderly as we facing the “graying of America.” We have to apply an intersectional approach to be effective in improving the climate for all our people in this country.
  10. Where do you hope to be in five years? In five years, I hope to continue to offer leadership in my current role and represent CT and UConn as visionary entities to the rest of the country; serve in a new role such a Chief Diversity Office of university; or work in a leadership role regarding sport and social justice, particularly for intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming athletes and coaches.
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