Aaron Kemmerer / by Michael Falco


Who is Aaron Kemmerer?

Aaron Kemmerer lives in Richmond, VA. He was Born in Westwood, New Jersey in 1990. He moved around a lot as his mother struggled to make ends meet. He moved to Richmond at eighteen to study Philosophy and Gender Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Aaron now works at the YWCA and is enrolled in the graduate social work program at VCU. He tries to stay involved with the community in Richmond, putting effort into projects designed to uplift poor people and gender-oppressed groups. Aaron identifies as Jewish and queer. He loves music, mountains, his cat and his dog.

Excerpt from interview with Samuel Lutzker by Whitney Dow, 2018

Q: So you also were in that part of northern Virginia for high school, too?

Kemmerer: Mm-hmm.

Q: Was that any different for you than middle school?

Kemmerer: [00:39:39] Only in the sense of emotional growth. I think the social conditions were pretty much the same. But, I got more into my politics, you know? And also being exposed to these social conditions for so long, like, starting to try to break them down a little bit. And also, the thing I mentioned about us trying to start a gay-straight alliance, that happened in high school. And I think that’s something that has actually really changed or brought people into multiracial groups, in my experience, is when we’re queer, because being queer in a small town in Virginia, we’re going to have to stick together, you know, no matter what race we are.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the formation of the gay-straight alliance that you all were doing at your high school?

Kemmerer: [00:40:41] Yes. It was a group of us that wanted to start having meetings because people always would say, in the halls or in classrooms or whatever, just throw around the word “gay” all the time. And it was just becoming a really big problem for us. And we had our choir teacher or whatever, who was sponsoring it. And then we put up one flyer. It was defaced. And the school canceled the meetings and said we couldn’t do it.

Q: Wow. This was the flyer where the person wrote the graffiti on it, right?

Kemmerer: Yes.

Q: And the principal’s reaction to that was that you couldn’t have any more meetings? Do you remember the rationale that the principal gave?

Kemmerer: [00:41:33] They said that it was causing a disturbance of the school, that us trying to organize it was disturbing the peace of the school or whatever. So, I think they identified us as the root cause of the problem instead of the person who did this graffiti. And then we just kind of—it was a silencing technique. There was no more organizing for the gay students after that. It was just like, okay, we can’t do this here.

Q: Was there any organizing among the black or other minority group students in your high school?

Kemmerer: [00:42:27] Yes. Well, I mean, I can’t really speak to their organization, like what it was like in depth. But I know that they were...

Q: Well, you don’t need to either.

Kemmerer: [00:42:41] I mean, I know that they were very supportive of one another. And a lot of their families were interconnected. They lived in the same neighborhoods. They went to the same churches. Their families knew each other. They may have been related in some way. I don’t know. And I think their reaction to the environment was power in numbers, essentially. So, just to make sure everyone was okay.

Q: I guess my question was just that they saw your organizing along the lines of sexuality and gender as something that’s going to disrupt the school in some way. But I was wondering if it was a similar silencing among organizing among black students or anything like that.

Kemmerer: [00:43:45] I think that most of the organizing, the publicly—I don’t know how to say it. There were legitimate organizations, which I think were mostly revolving around sports and faith. I remember specifically the step team. The step team was the most badass because they had all these black women that were like this is how we organize. This is like our group. But they can’t tell them not to have a fucking step team. And I also think that’s a really good question because I think that though it is—I think because it is such a racially tense and segregated area, there’s a higher consciousness, in some levels, about that. The white administration knows that it would look super-racist if they tell people that they can’t have an all-black group.

Interview Transcript