LGBTQ and Friends Community sponsors Gessen’s lecture

Catie Kirsten, Karen James and Barbara Britton discuss the sponsorship of speaker Masha Gessen through the LGBTQ Friends and Community group and how they hope Gessen’s lecture will bring about new conversations at Chautauqua on Friday, July 13, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In 2013, the Russian government imposed an anti-gay propaganda law in an effort to reinforce traditional family values. The law forced many LGBTQ people, like journalist and author Masha Gessen, to flee the country with their families.

“(Gessen) is powerful in the perspective on what freedom is and how freedom can be endangered,” said Barbara Britton, member of Chautauqua’s LGBTQ and Friends Community. “It really is a cautionary tale for what we’re going through in our society right now.”

At 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 20, in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans will hear Gessen’s story thanks to the sponsorship of LGBTQ and Friends Community.

LGBTQ and Friends’ mission statement says it strives to “expand diversity within the greater Chautauqua community.” The group holds two weekly events: a meet and greet at 6 p.m. on Sundays on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall and a Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Garden Room of Alumni Hall.

The group has also sponsored lectures, such as the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson’s talk last season in the Hall of Philosophy. In addition to sponsoring Gessen’s lecture this season, the LGBTQ and Friends Community was also involved in a weeklong dialogue on sexual orientation, gender and identity throughout Week Three in the Hall of Philosophy, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chautauqua.

After reading Gessen’s book The Future is History, Britton knew that the author would be an influential voice to include in this season’s programming.

Gessen was a journalist in Russia for 20 years, writing about the state of the country, LGBTQ rights, medical genetics and various other topics. Gessen is currently a staff writer for The New Yorker and contributes to other publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

After the Russian Duma introduced, and would later pass, the anti-gay propaganda law five years ago, Gessen’s oldest adopted child was sent to the United States in fear of the government annulling the his adoption.

One reason the LGBTQ and Friends Community decided to underwrite Gessen’s lecture was because of Gessen’s powerful story, yet the group also wanted to do its part in supporting Chautauqua Institution.

“As a community, we want to be a supporter of Chautauqua and give back,” said Karen James, member of the LGBTQ and Friends Community. “(We’re) willing to sponsor speakers (and) willing to make that financial commitment.”

Catie Miller, member of the LGBTQ and Friends Community, said that sponsoring people to come and speak at Chautauqua is of “great educational value,” and the community benefits from being exposed to different perspectives.

Specifically, Britton said she hopes community members will take away from Gessen’s lecture the importance of “not losing your freedoms” because of propaganda. She and other members of LGBTQ and Friends hope that people will gain a better understanding of the struggles marginalized people are facing in their communities.

For more information on program underwriting opportunities, contact Karen Blozie, senior major gifts officer at the Chautauqua Foundation, at 716-357-6244 or

Tags : AmphitheaterLGBTQ and Friends CommunityMasha Gessenmorning lecture

The author Matthew Steinberg

Matthew Steinberg is a rising senior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, studying communication arts, journalism, and Spanish. He will be copy editing for the Daily this summer, and in his free time enjoys spending way too much money at TJ Maxx, longboarding on roads that he shouldn’t and ranting about politics.