Social Justice Activist Bishop Joseph W. Tolton '85 Speaks With Students and Faculty
Ruth Kornblatt-Stier

On Friday, February 12, the CGPS Queer Straight Alliance welcomed a special guest speaker in honor of Black History Month: Bishop Joseph W. Tolton '85, the founder and president of Interconnected Justice, “a global platform connecting people of African descent for collaborative action in the areas of policy and advocacy, media and culture, education and economics.” A CGPS alum himself, Bishop Tolton took the time to share his life experiences as a young, gay, religious black man. 

An important thread throughout the Bishop’s discussion of his life was the notion of love and compassion, not only for others but also for oneself. At the beginning of his talk, the Bishop addressed students, saying, “You already are all that you are meant to be. We should not come to such quick and decisive conclusions about who we are and who other people are because each one of us is a mystery.” He continued to speak about how CGPS offered him both a unique and fortunate opportunity that “changed the course of [his] life” and differed greatly from the academic possibilities available to the other impoverished black children he had grown up with. 

He noted that although being a young, black and gay man in the 1980s exposed him to much discrimination and racism, CGPS provided him with a deeply loving and connected community that has championed him throughout his entire journey. He said, “My friends were more accepting of what it meant to be gay than I even was. I am so blessed and delighted to be having this conversation at a place that was so critical to shaping who I am today.”

The Bishop also answered a range of questions from students and teachers about overcoming racism, helping LGBTQI communities in Africa and growing up gay in a conservative church. In response to a student’s question about racial and homophobic anger, the Bishop described how he was able to recover from intolerance, saying, “I was able to heal myself from [the anger] by laughing a whole lot and embracing every moment of joy. I am grateful every day for the academic opportunities I was given.” 

Toward the end of his discussion, the Bishop offered advice to everyone, saying that “the greatest gift you can give to a queer person, ally and even adversary is time and acceptance. And that takes love and compassion. Enjoy the process of coming into who you already are.”

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