Despite the gloomy weather, Jess Guilbeaux lit up the Student Union theater last night as she discussed what it means to be a queer black woman in today’s society, her journey since her time on “Queer Eye” and how audience members could work towards self-acceptance themselves. An LGBTQ advocate and activist, Guilbeaux came to campus as the Rainbow Center’s Annual Keynote Speaker. The event is part of the center’s series for LGBTQIA+ History Month, which includes National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. The discussion was moderated by Julia Anderson, the Rainbow Center’s first full-time coordinator.
“Seeing [Jess] on the show, you see the Fab Five being the experts, so I didn’t expect [her] to be so well-spoken, have such a strong presence and be so empowering,” Courtney Jones, a first-semester student in the ACES program, said. “ … her words really resonated with me because [sometimes people] ignore their insecurities and feelings of self-worth because we think we are alone or a burden or can’t be fixed.”
The bubbly and outgoing Guilbeaux was featured on the third season Netflix’s “Queer Eye” on the episode aptly named “Black Girl Magic,” and made history as the first lesbian to appear on the show. The reality show follows the “Fab Five” as they advise people in need of a “lifestyle makeover” while also including important moments of social commentary. Now a seasoned “hero,” as those who appear on the show are coined, Guilbeaux now advocates for people and women of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+, and shares messages of positivity, self-love and mental health awareness on her social media.
“It was very cool and humbling to see these people invest themselves in my life to make me a better person and get me to see my worth,” Guilbeaux said about her time on the show, which was possible thanks to a friend’s nomination.
From her episode, Guilbeaux wants people to take away the importance of being open with yourself about your feelings surrounding your identity.
“It’s okay to feel insecure and feel like you don’t belong,” Guilbeaux said. “We have so many pressures in society that steer us to feel that way … you need to make sure that you’re going at your own pace and be patient with yourself … it’s not a race.”
During her time on “Queer Eye,” Guilbeaux worked on reclaiming aspects of her life, like her natural hair or her glasses, that she had rejected or shied away from as a result of her childhood or societal expectations.
“I realized a lot of my insecurities about how I looked had to do with the fact that I had no idea how to do my own hair,” Guilbeaux shared. Jonathan Van Ness, resident “grooming expert” of the show, helped her reclaim her natural hair. “Since then, I feel so empowered to have my hair and to embrace my really tight curls … I’m growing my hair out, I’m never cutting it, it’s just going to be a big, beautiful ‘fro.”
Since her time on the show, Guilbeaux moved from Kansas City, which was also home to her inspiration Janelle Monae. She shared some tips for those seeking to start their own journeys of self-acceptance and suggested therapy for those that are able to, as she cited it as one of the influential things in her life after the show.
“You just need to have conversations with yourself,” Guilbeaux said. She invited audience members to ask for help if they need it and to even reach out to her on social media for someone to talk to. “You need to ask yourself why we feel the way we feel … if not therapy, find friends that have the emotional energy to listen to you.”
The advice and experiences that Guilbeaux shared resonated with many students.
“It was so refreshing to hear from a queer black woman who was so confident in her identity,” Kayla Simon, a first-semester English major, as well as a fan of “Queer Eye” and the Fab Five, said. “[Jess] wasn’t shy about her experiences with therapy which is usually such a stigmatized subject…I love that she took her experience on the show as a starting point and continued to grow, and now was able to spread that message of self-love to a room full of college students, many of which identify as queer.”
The show has helped Guilbeaux to build relationships with not only Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby and Jonathan, but also other heroes, like Mamma Tammye Hicks, Skyler Jay and the show’s crew.
“I think my mentor would be the beautiful, strong black woman who produced my episode,” Guilbeaux said. “She’s just like a big sister to me … I’ve gotten really close with the crew, they’re such a big part of making that show and it would not function without them.”
As for what’s next, Guilbeaux looks forward to getting more involved with local LGBTQ+ affairs and finishing up her computer science degree, which she will use as head of technology at a startup that is creating an inclusive dating app for women. She continues to strive to be a role model for others.
“It’s a comforting moment to think you could be someone you could look up to when you were five years old, and I feel that … In terms of what a strong, queer black woman would look like, I feel like I’m trying to do it, at least,” Guilbeaux said. “It just motivates me, and I plan on doing it as long as I can.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.