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Advocacy & Education for Equal Rights

14 February 2024

Meet the Expert: Looi van Kessel

Throughout its existence, the LGBTQIA+ community has sparked much debate. Recent years have shown signs of progress, with increased representation in modern media. However, alongside this positive development, there is a concerning rise in the intensity of homophobia and transphobia. This alarming trend has prompted experts such as dr. Looi van Kessel to advocate, educate, and broadcast accurate information, amidst an era marked by misinformation.

Dr. Looi van Kessel, alumnus of Leiden University and currently assistant professor and editor in chief of Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies, has always shown ambition. Throughout his studies he served as the chair of Maktub (Film and Literary Studies’ association), as a member of the programme committee (OLC), and as student representative of the programme board. Now he has redirected his devotion to advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights: "It's essential for me to play a part in improving the world for the entire rainbow community."

One way he achieves this, is by openly discussing LGBTQIA+ rights in the media. Last year, he made numerous appearances on NPO Radio 1 and was interviewed by both de Mare and Sleutelstad.fm. Another way is through his own research. His PhD research for example, on how the American author James Purdy problematises the ways in which sexual identities are enforced in our society.  “To me Purdy is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I find his work very interesting, because he wrote about sexuality in a way that was very revolutionary for his time, and maybe even ours.” The revolutionary nature of Purdy's writing is particularly evident in his perspective on the classification of sexuality. Van Kessel explains: “For Purdy labels are like a prison, rather than liberating individuals, they serve as constraints.”

Van Kessel believes that this view offers insights into how we can structure our own society and portray queer individuals: “this is how we should write about sexuality and gender. By just letting the characters exist and not making their identity the entirety of the plot.” However, in a world where homophobia and transphobia persist, compromises must be made. "As long as these forms of discrimination are prevalent," he argues, "labels remain necessary for the safety and visibility of queer individuals.”

Whether there will be a label-less society such as the one described in Purdy’s works is hard to say according to van Kessel. "Reflecting on the recent history of the 20th century," he observes, "we notice that periods of relative freedom and acceptance are often followed by counter movements, typically coinciding with economic setbacks.” Currently we live in an uncertain world, one of constant crises, leading to increased animosity towards the LGBTQIA+ community. However, Van Kessel states that history also demonstrates that these periods are invariably succeeded by phases of positive political transformation. Until then, he will keep advocating for and educating on queer rights.

Upcoming event: The Power of Drag - lecture in Amsterdam on 14 March

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Sharon Sterke
February 2024


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