Event uses art and more to uplift the trans and gender-nonconforming community
Briden Schueren knows what it's like to be bullied, attacked and marginalized based on issues of identity.
It was when he faced similar attitudes coming from members of a community in which he believed he would be safe and affirmed that his activism on behalf of trans persons began to take shape.
“Being a trans person, I've always had the struggle where Pride was never really welcoming to my community, and walking in Pride, holding my partner's hand, and they looked like a cisgendered person and I looked like a cisgendered person, we might get called a ‘breeder,'” Schueren said in a recent interview at a Downtown coffee shop. “I'm straight, but I am trans. I need to be part of some kind of community, part of the LGBT community. I'd been fighting for my identity all my life, and now the community I felt I was safe in is telling me I'm not part of that community. … I just felt like there was room for some way to celebrate trans and gender nonbinary and gender nonconforming people.”
Beyond Binary is a Stonewall Columbus-sponsored event that Schueren helped organize in his new role as a member of the Stonewall board. The decision to join the board of Stonewall, which puts on the Pride festival and parade, wasn't easy, Schueren said, but he felt like it was appropriate to “fight for the trans community from within instead of throwing pitchforks from the outside. That works and there's a place for it, but I felt this was the direction I wanted to go.”
The weekend of activities is the unofficial/official kick-off to this year's Pride “season,” Schueren said. There will be a parade, a dance party, an exhibition featuring work by trans and nonbinary artists, a market day featuring locally owned trans/nonconforming/queer-owned or affirming businesses, queer yoga, live muraling from trans activist/artist Rae Senarighi and a painting class with Senarighi and Schueren.
It's not the first instance for Schueren taking up a cause, nor is it the first time Schueren has used his art as a vehicle for activism.
“Six years ago, I was working with a few groups, including Food Not Bombs — causes that sort of lined up with how I think, people who were doing good things. But I didn't really have a focus,” he said.
In recent years, Schueren has found the strength to begin to advocate for those who share the journey he's lived as a trans person.
“I knew there was something different about me when I was in second grade, I just didn't know how to say what it was. I looked like a boy, and I would get picked on to use the boys' bathroom, but the teachers told me I had to use the girls',” he said. “From elementary school through high school, I was harassed. I got attacked when I was in college. I was on the women's rowing team, but I had to drop out because of NCAA regulations. Back then, you couldn't be on hormone therapy or use different pronouns. I've come to a place where it's still scary, but I'm confident enough to say this is who I am and to recognize so many other people dealing with the same things,” Schueren said.
He now speaks at businesses, schools and health and service agencies about trans issues. When the controversy over who uses what bathroom became a national story again a couple of years ago, Schueren put his ideas and skills to work in a photo for the 2017 exhibition “Silence is Deadly” at the Vanderelli Room.
“I thought it would be really cool if I just got straight-up naked and stood in front of two bathroom signs. It was really raw, and it got a great reaction,” Schueren said. He said he's encouraged that others have voiced a willingness to participate in an expanded “bathroom” photo project, when none seemed willing when he photographed himself just a couple years back.
“It shows we are both moving to a better place and still fighting for our rights,” Schueren said.
Also a painter, Schueren's work on canvas is less-overtly activist and more personal. “It's been, for me, more of a way to get through things. It can be more of an expression, a visual representation of something a person is going through,” he said.
Combining both art and activism, Beyond Binary is an extension of Schueren's dedication to acknowledge the struggle and affirm the individual.
“Everyone is in transition, be it from high school to college or from one house to a new home. That I might be transitioning my body… transition is just part of life in general,” he said. “I'll be fighting for us forever.”