EWU Pride Week keynote speaker tells students to “go to hell”



By Jaclyn Archer, Eagle Life Editor

Alfreda Lenoix is not a particularly tall woman, but her presence is as big and warm as the hugs with which she greets each person she meets.

Lenoix, or Reverend Freda as some of her friends call her, offered Pride Week keynote addresses at 10 a.m. in Monroe 207 and at 4 p.m. on Riverpoint campus and she had some bold advice to offer students as part of her talk titled “The Joy in the Journey.”

“I invite you to go to hell, and I invite you to go first class,” said Lenoix, as she shared her own personal journey through a difficult coming-of-age, a heterosexual marriage which eventually ended and the process of accepting herself as an individual and a lesbian. Lenoix then proceeded to explain to her audience the various definitions of hell she experienced.

Born in Kansas, Missouri, in 1955, Lenoix left home at the age of 17 to find a father she never knew.

“Hell is realizing you were conceived during the booty call.”

Lenoix moved to Los Angeles, California, hoping to foster a relationship with her father, a process she said was rooted in the desire to find her own identity through family story and history. The relationship did not work out but Lenoix was still able to form identity for herself.

“The joy in the journey is recognizing I am more than the story,” said Lenoix. “My reality today is I am here. I am proud. I am Black. I am woman. I am lesbian.”

As Lenoix spoke, the 40 or so students and faculty who came to hear her occasionally murmured with agreement, harkening to the church atmosphere with which Lenoix is quite familiar. Lenoix was ordained, openly lesbian, in 1995 and served as a minister in the Unity Fellowship Church in Los Angeles, earning the honorific “reverend.” She resigned in 2002 when she realized she did not “fit into the framework,” said Lenoix.
Lenoix is fond of saying, “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” The quote even appears at the top of her bio on her professional website.

Lenoix now works as an author, public speaker and workshop facilitator. Her book “Go to Hell,” was published in 2011. Her current responsibilities, however, did not keep her from officiating the first same-sex marriage at the Rosebowl parade in 2014.

Lenoix also finds time for family — she is the mother of two, the grandmother of four and the great-grandmother of one — and friendship.

“[She is] my friend, and I don’t say that lightly,” said EWU Pride Center director Sandy Williams, who not only introduced Lenoix, but shared personal stories of their interactions throughout and after Lenoix’s talk.

Lenoix spoke for about half an hour on self-love, forgiveness, graciousness toward others and personal empowerment. The core of her message revolved around “standing on your truth,” a concept which for Lenoix includes radical self knowledge, self acceptance, self love and celebration of the complete self, good and bad, including sexuality.

After her talk, students asked Lenoix questions for nearly an hour, asking for her opinions, details about her story and for personal advice.

“It was really inspiring to hear her story,” said Angela Rak, a senior who attended with her boyfriend. “It was refreshing to hear her talk about the courage it takes to be yourself, as well as the love for yourself and others.”

“Don’t be afraid to go to hell,” advised Lenoix. “Spend time with yourself, it’s the only way to grow.”