Mount Allison student pens children’s book, invited to present at international conference on queer and transgender studies in religion
Fourth-year Mount Allison University Commerce and Japanese studies student Oorja Gonepavaram has been invited to speak at the University of California, Riverside’s 2022 Conference on Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion (UCR-QTSR IV) in February. She is the only undergraduate student presenting at the international event.
Drawing on research completed in several religious studies classes and independently, Gonepavaram is working to turn her research into an accessible resource, encouraging acceptance for all ages. She has developed a children’s book, As you are: A children’s book advocating for the acceptance of one’s sexual orientation in Buddhist spirituality and faith.
As part of the conference, Gonepavaram will read parts of her book and contextualize the stylistic choices with secondary research she completed at Mount Allison. She plans to publish the book at a later date.
“The idea for a children’s book resulted from my final project last year for the course, Religion and Children’s books, which I took with Dr. Susie Andrews,” says Gonepavaram. “I continued work on the project for other courses in Religious Studies, exploring different areas and concepts. I’ve focussed on the experience of queer Buddhists and lay followers and how the Buddhist virtues of human rights and loving compassion go against homophobia, and worked to present these topics in an accessible way.”
The story follows the journeys of two children, Daniel and Natasha, both with wildly different household situations but struggling with accepting their queer identities. The book navigates how they gain acceptance within the Sangha despite/because of their queerness.
Dr. Dani Dempsey, Assistant Professor of Western Religions at Mount Allison, is working with Gonepavaram on the current stage of the book project and to help her prepare for the conference. Dempsey, whose research focusses on queer and transgender studies and religion, says projects like Gonepavaram’s help give voice to individuals who may not have been heard in the past and build towards social justice.
“Oorja’s research is a shining example of the community-minded projects happening within Religious Studies and across the Mount Allison campus,” says Dempsey. “I am enjoying learning about her project and hearing her insights as we prepare for her conference presentation and eventual book publication.”
While Gonepavaram hopes to travel to California to present at the conference in-person, she is preparing for the possibility of presenting her work virtually as well.
“Whatever format I do, I am very excited to have the opportunity to engage in intellectual discourse with academicians from all over the world and represent Mount Allison,” she says.