We Stand Together: Videographer Advocates for a Happier Future
Bellevue University boasts a vibrant and diverse community of students, staff, and faculty as well as a strong network of more than 57,000 alumni worldwide.
Meet a longtime member of the Bruin family: Eli Rigatuso, video producer, director, creator, and equal rights activist.
Rigatuso, 55, is a born storyteller and bold voice for the LGBTQ+ community. The Omaha native shares about his professional life and personal ambitions -- and how he’s advocating for a happier future, one conversation at a time.
What’s your role at Bellevue University, and what do you love most about your work?
I just celebrated my eighth year at the university. I’m a storyteller. I love to teach, and I love to learn. I create videos to enhance online learning. My team collaborates with our faculty and subject matter experts in creating content for their courses. I appreciate having the freedom to be creative and rise to the challenge of making videos exciting and captivating so that people want to watch until the end.
Where do you get your creativity?
When I was young I was gifted a Kodak Pocket 110 camera. I was constantly taking pictures. I would get so excited to get my photos back and feel it created a foundation for my ability to visualize things. I am gifted with storytelling and I owe it to my indigenous roots. I’m able to visualize scenes in a unique way. I get really jazzed when I have the opportunity to create something that captures and sustains people’s attention. I love creating these “ah-ha” moments that help people to understand something. I am grateful to be able to do what I love!
What else do you want people to know about you?
I’ve lived in Omaha my whole life. I’m indigenous -- first generation born off the reservation. I identify as a queer trans masculine two spirit of the Menominee Nation and each aspect of my identity means something important to me. I’ve been reconnecting to my roots. In honor of my mother, who passed in July, I started learning our Menominee language. Two spirit is an indigenous term. For me it means, intrinsically, I equally possess both feminine and masculine qualities and my Menominee Nation holds people like me in high regard. We were the visionaries, medicine people, and guides for couples within our community because we can see both sides of a relationship. A person like me born into a family was seen as a great blessing. I acknowledged in 2015 that I am transgender, which started my journey down the path of allowing myself to be fully authentic. Even the words I use to describe myself have evolved over time and out of a need to assure my language would honor others within our greater transgender community I arrived at how I identify. My gender expression is trans masculine and my pronouns are he/him. That’s how I want people to refer to me. The conversations around gender, identity and expression can be complex and I hope by doing the work I am doing with Speaking of Happy people can find excitement in learning about me and my community and possibly even a little bit more about themselves personally. The ways in which our world describes gender both identity and expression has actually impacted us all and I find great joy in helping others unpack the ways in which the gender binary has held us all back. The past five years have been a wild ride with some heartache along the way, but I wouldn’t change it. It led me to who I am today.
How are you involved in your community, and what issues are you passionate about?
I think because I was born at the height of civil unrest, from a young age I noticed when people were treated poorly. Naturally, I’ve become an outspoken activist, advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion for decades. My main role today is to be a visible elder who provides support and guidance. I’ve been active in various volunteer roles. I host workshops, facilitate training, panel discussions and speak at businesses. I helped pioneer Heartland Pride and the mayor’s LGBTQ+ advisory board. I also created Speaking of Happy where I document stories, share videos, and promote awareness. And I curate information to share on Facebook and on my website.
When I started transitioning and sharing my story online, I’d get emails and text messages constantly. These messages have only ramped up. People have so many questions, and I’m happy to provide answers from my own perspective. Sharing my lived experience has been rewarding and has helped uplift knowledge and awareness for many people. I want to infuse happiness into these conversations and provide language that is open and affirming of people who are transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming. It doesn’t have to be heavy or scary. It’s all about having fun and learning together. We can learn different experiences from each other. I want everybody to have the opportunity to bring their full self forward.
What’s your hope for the future?
My hope for the future is that we are truly living in a world where folks do take the time to learn about things they do not understand. Being eager to learn and having true empathy for those who cross their path. We would all do so much better if we could show up in the world wholeheartedly. I believe we should treat people how they want to be treated. The only way for me to know how you want to be treated is to actually converse with you and understand what your world is all about. Let’s listen to each other so we can all rise together.
This is the time to work and learn together. We are proud of all the ways that Bellevue University students, faculty and staff are using their voices, their time and their talents to serve the community and stand together against hate, injustice and oppression.