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[WEBINAR] Pride and Protest: Free Expression and LGBTQIA+ Student Activism in 2020

An online event hosted by PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program

The current reckoning over anti-Black and anti-trans violence has galvanized a national call for justice and equality for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Amid ongoing uncertainty and inequality wrought by COVID-19, student leaders are looking at how to drive forward meaningful change in their communities in the fall semester, even if campuses continue to operate virtually.

Join PEN America’s roundtable discussion with LGBTQIA+ student activists and leaders from around the country for a timely conversation about sexual and gender identity, race, and the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic on student expression and organizing.



Bryanna BrownBryanna Brown (she/her/hers) is a native New York resident who is currently an electrical and computer engineering master’s student at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, PA. She received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Binghamton University in 2019. On her current campus, Brown serves as the vice president of CMU’s Black Graduate Student Organization (BGSO), which has given her the opportunity to explore her newfound passion for activism and fighting for social justice. During these unprecedented times with COVID-19, she has dedicated much of her time to making changes on both her campus and in her hometown in regards to stopping police brutality and fighting against racial and social inequality.

Ravanna CantrallRavanna Cantrall (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student studying human rights at Columbia University and a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar. She works as an immigration intern and paralegal at the Migration Resource Center, where she has a special focus on the LGBTQ community. She also works as a policy and communications fellow for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). At CJJ, she helps ensure youth are treated fairly in the juvenile justice system. In the past, Cantrall founded and ran Long Beach CIty College’s sole LGBTQ-student group, Queer Space, and was awarded the Mayor’s Youth Grand Marshall Pride award in 2017 for her work with the club and with the mayor’s office. In her spare time, she can be found at her current home in Los Angeles playing with her Australian Shepherd.

Carolyn GassertCarolyn Gassert (she/her/hers) is the vice president of Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship (USGA) at Brigham Young University (BYU). Gassert was born and raised in South Carolina, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). She is the oldest of four children. She is half Catawba Native American and is proud of her heritage as an indigenous person. She started school at BYU, the main university run by the LDS church, in the fall of 2016. She identifies as a cisgender lesbian woman. Starting the coming out process in 2017 led her to become involved with USGA, the unofficial gay-straight alliance of BYU. She has since dealt with attempting to reconcile her faith and sexuality while still attending BYU, and has been publicly out since 2018. She regularly participates in classroom panels in the attempt to educate her peers at BYU. She enjoys activism, spending time with friends, and playing with her cat, Nibs.

Alyx SteadmanAlyx Steadman, MSW (he/him/his) is a skilled social worker, passionate youth advocate, and bold empathic rabble-rouser. He has over seven years of experience working alongside youth experiencing homelessness and/or identifying along the LGBTQ spectrum. Knowing he wanted to pursue social work from an early age, Steadman has received two degrees in social work: a bachelor’s at New York University and a master’s at the University of Washington. Other interests of his include queer-inclusive sex education, drag, hiking, and dismantling the patriarchy. Currently, he resides in Seattle, where he intends to continue providing therapeutic care to young people experiencing mental health challenges.

Gary Wilkins Jr.Gary Robert Wilkins Jr. (he/him/his) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Computational Biology Department at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and is also the vice president of finance at CMU’s Graduate Student Assembly. Wilkins Jr. was exposed to scientific research at 16 in his first job at NASA. After that first taste, he was hooked. Over the next 16 years, his curiosity would take him through a wide array of disciplines from graph theory at UCLA’s Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics, to developmental neurobiology at UNC’s Neuroscience Center, to clinical research with the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Now, at CMU, under Dr. Robert F. Murphy’s guidance, he studies protein-protein interactions using machine learning and automated experimentation. For over a decade, he has been learning how to think like a scientist. In this time, he has learned a great deal about what it takes to navigate academic spaces, in which BIPOC are underrepresented. He has also learned how to navigate those spaces that differentially embrace certain identities over others. For the next decade, he wants to help remove the need for a map at all.


Nicholas “Niko” Perez (he/him/his) is the program coordinator for Campus Free Speech at PEN America. He supports PEN America’s advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. Perez previously worked for the Columbia University Human Rights Advocates Program and consulted for the Human Rights Education and Training Section at the United Nations. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University in human rights and humanitarian policy and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in international politics. He also was a Global Leadership Fellow at Waseda University in Japan, a Model United Nations advisor at Mira Costa High School, and a forensics researcher for the Yahad-in Unum Genocide Research Agency.