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The Henry Madden Library’s Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the Fresno Art Museum hosted “Walking the Walk: Rad Fresno State Women Talk.” (Ricky Gutierrez/The Collegian)

Women activists speak about gender roles

Fresno State alumna and gay rights activist Robin McGehee remembers the moment her activist spirit was awakened.

At the Fresno Art Museum Rad Women panel discussion celebrating Fresno State women activists, intellectuals and pioneers, McGehee recalled a conversation she had as a Fresno State graduate student in the mid ‘90 with a professor about a text dealing with a gay black man.

“She said, ‘You know, Robin, I know you moved from the South and you look at this like African-Americans getting the right to vote and people being put on the back of the bus, but the reality is gay people aren’t like African-Americans,’” McGehee said. “‘They don’t deserve to sit at the front of the bus because they are like drug addicts and prisoners.”

“That began my activism,” said MeGehee, who organized rallies in support of same-sex marriage after she was kicked out of her son’s school PTA for her opposition to Proposition 8.

The talk, titled “Walking the Walk: Rad Fresno State Women Talk,” was sponsored by the Henry Madden Library’s Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, the Art and Design Department and the Women’s Studies Program.  

“My purpose in bringing this show here was to follow up on something Jane Chu, who came here in the summer — she is the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts,” said Michele Ellis Pracy, chief curator and executive director of the Fresno Art Museum. “Her message to us was, in a city, no matter big or small, what we need to be is relevant to our communities.”

In addition to McGehee, chemistry professor Joy Goto, Hmong Empowerment Resource and Outreach founder Chelsea See Xiong, social activist Gloria Hernandez and director of the Cross Cultural and Gender Center Francine Oputa spoke about their work and challenges they faced.

The panelists were all included in the fall 2015 exhibition, which began as a collaborative effort of several university departments.

“Last year I came across this book, ‘Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History…and Our Future!’’’ said Jennifer Crow, curator at the Arne Nixon Center. “What was so intriguing about this book was that it’s a collected biography of women we don’t usually see in children’s textbooks or other children’s books — women who had broken out of traditional gender roles, women who fight for social justice and those that really change lives.”

A collaborative project between the Women’s Studies and Art and Design Department emerged as the Rad Fresno State Women exhibit on the university’s campus in fall 2015, Crow said.

Xiong, a 2012 Fresno State alumna and panelist, said the most important part of being radical as a women was learning to “utilize your voice.”

The museum’s Rad American Women exhibit ends on May 1.