By Derek Devine
Fourth-year student Hal Trejo had one goal in mind while putting together their exhibit — create a project that is life-saving.
Drawing from their experiences from internships and exhibit design work in the New College public archeology lab, Trejo created an exhibit that explores connections between history, identity and materiality to showcase how the world might move toward a more accurate, just and liberating future.
The exhibit, part of Trejo’s thesis, “Queer as Florida: Gender and Sexuality Diversity in the Sunshine State,” presents an in-depth look at Florida history, with a particular focus on LGBTQ identity and activism. Trejo worked with three LGBTQ participants around 30 years of age in hopes of forming a different model for interpreting belonging. These relationships helped establish the theme of their overall body of work.
“The oral history shifted a lot of my research,” says Trejo. “I worked to make an exhibit that explores the history of gender and sexually in Florida to prove that no one is alone. There is a vast community of ancestors right here in Florida that will stand by you.”
The exhibit quickly became a project that stretches beyond sharing information and into a pathway for cultural institutions and research that is liberating to LGBTQ persons. Trejo’s works moves its audience one step closer to shifting culture and saving lives.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth in the U.S.,, and LGBTQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender counterparts. Trejo understands the significance of these statistics and can also draw from life experiences.
“I’m 21 years old and terrified that suicide feels normal,” says Trejo. “I know that community-based suicide prevention works, so by creating an exhibit that explores this topic, I am able to educate and potentially save lives.”
As a first-generation college student, Trejo decided to add to their thesis by creating a physical component that attracts a broad audience and encourages interaction. By doing this, the audience is able to disseminate information in a way that is accessible to all.
“If we are being honest, not many people will pick up an 80-page thesis for some light reading,” says Trejo. “For me, it was really important to take the privilege I received from my education at New College and display it through this exhibit.”
Most students are not required to add a physical component to their thesis, but Trejo decided to take this unorthodox approach to not only provide an immersive experience, but to also learn a new trade.
“This exhibit pushed me to learn woodworking,” says Trejo. “All of the screws were put in with these hands, so it was cool to add a practical skill alongside being able to navigate through these complex intellectual issues.”
Uzi Baram, Trejo’s thesis advisor, believes the thesis and exhibit will make a difference for the rising generation by offering hope and resilience as the world wrestles with gender and sexual identity.
“‘Queer as Florida’ exemplifies an innovative use of archaeology,” says Baram.“ The research combines a focus on material culture with oral histories to tell a silenced history in Florida.”
Trejo will continue pushing for a cultural shift as they continue to work with Charlotte County’s All Rainbow and Allied Youth (ARAY), a nonprofit for LGBTQ youth 20 and under. Trejo will also be taking over the direction of the Charlotte County Pride Festival.
– Derek Devine is the social media manager at New College of Florida.