Nichols performs for JMU's Pride Week

For Dukes Pride Week, activist Tori Grace Nichols visited JMU to tell their story.

Disclaimer: Nichols likes to be identified with the pronouns they, them and theirs.

Assata Shakur, an African American activist, once said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

This quote has inspired rising actor, dancer and activist Tori Grace Nichols.

The sound of mellifluous guitar chords, strong vocals and dramatic readings coursed through the air as Dukes gathered to see Nichols perform. On April 6 in Festival Highlands, the experienced performer took part of Dukes Pride Week and enlightened nearly 300 students with their story as an adopted genderqueer and activist living with disabilities.

The LGBT+ themed show was hosted by Madison Equality, an organization that works to promote support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and was the fifth event of many that took place during Dukes Pride week.

“I’m happy that JMU approved of this,” Molly Alas, a freshman media arts and design major, said. “It’s nice for them to have programs that are strictly LGBT focused, rather than on diversity in general.”

Although the show began with a bumpy start due to technical difficulties, Nichols acted on their toes and didn’t cease to keep the crowd entertained. Going from guitar playing to dramatic readings to acting, the multitalented performer used many different mediums to express their experiences as a genderqueer and tell their story in a unique way.

“There was spoken word, pictures, music, all different things that complimented each other in a way that was easy to understand for anyone,” J’Travis Trooper, a freshman musical theatre major, said.

Through their theatrical performance, Nichols showed how they processed and eventually accepted their many identities as someone who had been adopted, suffered with depression and identifies as genderqueer. They then proceeded to tell the audience how they eventually came to terms with their identity and how they overcame the many trials and tribulations of their life.

The performance featured a mix of genres, including some romance and even comedy. But Nichols didn’t refrain from leaving out the hardships of their life and touched on a myriad of serious topics such as depression, anxiety and discrimination.    

The authentic and candid performance featured a heart-wrenching scene of their experience as a patient in a crisis center. They also did a dramatic reading of a piece titled “Letter to a Friend You’ve Always Been in Love With.” This was then followed by a fervent reading of an angry letter from a guest that attended a previous performance. These two pieces projected the problems that many LGBT+ community members often suffer with.

The performance also had lighthearted scenes where they showed pictures and told the audience of their experience as a drag performer. They even told the audience the heartwarming story of their first female lover.

“I really love this kind of a setting where we get this entertainment performance aspect that taps into the emotions of what it means to have different identities and live in this world as someone who identifies as a different gender,” said Nick Sherman, a sophomore sociology major and soon to be Madison Equality executive.

Toward the end of the performance, Nichols stirred away from their life story and became more politicized and active. Nichols took the problem of discrimination against homosexual individuals and tied it with problems of racism through songs such as “I Can’t Breathe” by Rev. Sekous and a protest song titled, “Which Side Are You On?” by Denise Sullivan.

“I wanted to give messages on the conditions of our world,” Nichols said. “I think we have to be real about racism. Until we admit things, we can’t move anywhere.”  

Nichols claims to structure their performances in a way that draws their audience in with entertainment and then, at the end, while audience members are focused and alert,  Nichols addresses political and social troubles that exist today.

In the enthralling Dukes Pride event, Nichols not only shared their life story in a way that was deemed interesting, yet inspiring by audience members, but touched on existing problems of racism in a way that was succinct and analogous with the overall problems of discrimination against homesexuals and other diverse groups.

“Find a way to tap into your inherited worth,” Nichols said. “You’re still valuable, even when the world wants to tell you that you shouldn’t be here.”

Jasmine Otey is a freshman writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major. Contact Jasmine at oteyjl@dukes.jmu.edu.

Jazmine Otey is a senior writer for Breeze Culture and has her own column for Breeze Opinion. She is a writing, rhetoric and technical communication major. In her spare time, she's most likely found painting or composing music.