Meet Matthew Armstead — 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar
1. How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?
I heard about the scholarship initially from Internet searches for LGBTQ-specific scholarships. When I was contemplating applying for the Frankel-Adair, I saw a printed poster for the scholarship at someone’s home during an organizing meeting. That’s when I knew I definitely should apply.
2. What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?
My connection with the ACLU was very limited before applying for the scholarship. When I worked at the LGBT Center at Princeton University almost every year I would organize a program with a speaker from the ACLU. Since the ACLU was so pivotal in the fights for marriage equality and trans rights in New Jersey, the ACLU staff was able of offer a long-term perspective on current issues. Also, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s national Executive Director, is a Princeton alum, so he came back to speak for a couple of programs and really helped me to understand the scope of the ACLU’s work.
3. What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?
My second semester of college, I was asked to become the co-president of the queer student group. This was a daunting honor: I was new to school, barely knew the community, and had come out to my family less than a year earlier. Yet I took a risk, and said yes. People helped me along the way, and I learned so much about being myself as leader and building a community.
A theme that now echoes throughout my life is that community will catch me when I take a risk to be more in alignment with my calling. When I took this step to pursue a Master’s degree in Ensemble Devised Performance at the University of the Arts, this theme again rang true, and the Frankel-Adair scholarship roots my education in the LGBTQ community.
4. What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBTQ community at this time?
A critical issue facing the LGBTQ community in the United States is how to keep pursuing change after marriage-equality funding no longer supports as many organizations. This reality has pushed organizations to get more creative, while providing visibility for many of the concerns within the community from immigration to heath care.
Globally we are seeing that trans rights are increasingly in the forefront. I appreciate how this re-centers gender in the community narrative. Much of the violence against LGBTQ people comes when our behavior moves outside gendered expectations. And this issue of gender-policing affects trans and cis-gender people. Organizing that pushes for our unique genders to be recognized will benefit us all as it would mean an end police harassment, enactment of pay and hiring equity, and the implementation of fair housing policies.
5. Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBTQ community?
Working with LGBTQ people has been a regular part of my career, and I expect that to continue. The slogan “We are everywhere” still rings true, and I am excited as more LGBTQ people bring our identities and issues explicitly into movements for change.
6. What other social issues motivate you?
I care passionately about people who are pursuing social change across the world. On my mind at the moment are environmental activists in the Philippines who are facing increased repression, Colombian activists with disabilities who just broke ground at the United Nations, and folks in the Movement for Black Lives who successfully unseated the Florida prosecutor who convicted Marissa Alexander and failed to convict George Zimmerman. My work training change-makers through Training for Change allows me to stay involved in this range of movements.
7. What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?
I hope to share the gratitude I feel with ACLU members at events throughout the year. The scholarship has the LGBTQ community in the front of my mind, so I’ll be looking for ways to use theater and my facilitation skills to support the LGBTQ community in the region.