Artist and Activist Uses Platform to Advocate for LGBTQ Community
- Major: Graphic Design
“ It has given me a platform to speak on what I really care about, and that has given me a lot of confidence ”
When Casey Hoke took to the stage at Cal Poly Pomona’s TEDxCPP conference in April to share his personal story, it marked the LGBTQ rights advocate’s first foray into activism on campus but not in life.
The second-year graphic design student’s involvement in LGBTQ organizations began when he was a high school student growing up in his native Louisville, Kentucky.
In his junior year of high school, he headed the Gay Straight Alliance on campus. In 2014, he became a student ambassador for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network (GLSEN), a national organization that fights against discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity in K-12 schools. He now serves on GLSEN’s board of directors.
“It has given me a platform to speak on what I really care about, and that has given me a lot of confidence,” Hoke says about his activism.
During his TEDx talk, titled “Peace Within the Brushstrokes: A Talk on Growing Up Transgender,” the artist shared how he drew self-portraits while in high school as a way of getting through the discomfort he felt about being transgender.
“The self-portraits showed me being displeased with my view on life and myself,” he says, adding that many of the portrayals of transgender people he found online and in the media growing up were negative.
That project and the LGBTQ community helped him to feel comfortable with himself and gave him the courage to come out, he adds.
Hoke learned about notable transgender artists such as composer and musician Wendy Carlos. He started to hint to his parents that he didn’t identify with the gender he was assigned at birth, but it was not an easy thing for his parents to accept at first.
“My parents are very liberal and concerned with gay issues, but they hadn’t really considered trans issues before,” Hoke says. “They really struggled with it.”
His mom and dad went to the University of Louisville and read research on gender identity to get a better understanding.
“They came home one night and said that they were wrong and wanted to make things right,” he says. “They started listening to me.”
With their support, Hoke, who kept his original first name, began taking testosterone to aid in his transition. He noticed the art pieces he was drawing were becoming more vibrant with his growing confidence in his changing body.
That confidence helped in Hoke’s activism. In his hometown, he spoke out in favor of trans-inclusive legislation his local school board was considering. He lobbied for the inclusion of LGBTQ artists in school district curricula at conferences he attended. Hoke was one of more than 20 named as scholars in 2015 by the Point Foundation, which provides mentorship, leadership development and scholarships to LGBTQ youth.
When it came time to look at universities, Hoke says he wanted to attend a diverse, midsize campus out of state and close to a Disney theme park. He has aspirations of interning at Disney at some point. He also wanted a university with a center for LGBT students. He found what he wanted at Cal Poly Pomona.
Hoke says while the university does a good job of promoting diversity on campus in general, more could be done for LGBTQ students. He would like to see gender-neutral restrooms near the PRIDE Center, mandatory SAFE Zone Ally training focused on LGBTQ issues for all staff and faculty and an easier process for students to change their gender on classroom rosters, he says.
As a new student, Hoke has not been active much on campus yet. However, his participation in TEDxCPP is a beginning. Hoke says he gives lectures on the arts and activism all the time to LGBTQ youth, and loves the concept of a TED Talk. So he was thrilled to be accepted as one of the event’s speakers, his first foray into activism on campus.
“I would go into the study hall room in the residence hall and practice over and over again,” he says. “It was hard, but by the end, I was able to get up and do my first memorized speech.”