Leah Lakshmi Speaks as the Bryn Mawr Disability Awareness Month Keynote Speaker

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By Sophie Webb

Leah Lakshmi, a “queer disabled femme of color writer, performance artist, and educator,” appeared at the Bryn Mawr Campus Center on Tuesday, March 28, as the Disability Awareness Month Keynote Speaker.

Lakshmi is the author of four books and has received many awards and accolades for her writing. She is the co-founder of Mangos With Chili, the longest-running queer and trans people of color performance art tour in North America, co-founder of Toronto’ Asian Arts Freedom School, and is currently a lead artist with the disability justice performance collective “Sins Invalid.” The bio on her website, “brownstargirl.org,” describes her as “a weirdo who writes about survivorhood, disability justice, transformative justice, queer femme of color lives and Sri Lankan diaspora.”

Carrie Fillion, the Disabilities Access Services Student Coordinator with the Pensby Center, invited Lakshmi to campus as part of the events series that she and Stephanie Nixon organized in recognition of Disability Awareness Month. For the keynote speaker, Fillion said, she “really wanted to find a performance artist that would bring to the forefront the interconnectedness and intersectionality of disability.” In Lakshmi she believes she found just that.

“Leah, as an artist, uses her identities as a source of inspiration for her work,” said Fillon. “She frequently discusses mental health, physical disability, chronic pain, her sexuality, the ways in which gender affect her (and all of us in the world!), systematic violence, race, etc. in a very powerful way. She’s able to seamlessly tie it all into her work— [her work] screams intersectionality.”

As part of her performance, Lakshmi shared some of her poetry and talked and engaged with the audience in a very candid and natural way, creating a comfortable and dynamic space. She spoke about sexuality, love, community, and so much more, all through the lens of disability.

“It’s a real journey to find disability community,” She said, but added that, once you find that community, “others will move with you in a wild pack of slowness.” Her words were inspired by her own personal experiences, but they seemed to resonate with every person in the audience.

Her performance provoked thinking and inspired a desire to see the world through a more intersectional lense. As Annika Lutzenhiser, BMC ‘19, put it, “As an able-bodied person, it opened my eyes to the many different facets of living with a disability that I hadn’t considered before, such as the power of organizing communities.”

Fillion expressed how pleased she was with the event, saying, “[Lakshmi] was so fun and engaging and enveloping to talk to and experience. I think everyone who came really took something from the performance.”

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