A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being chosen by the Residence Hall Association (RHA) to attend the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC, affectionately pronounced mum-bul-tech) in Chicago, Illinois. This was a trip of many firsts for me—my first conference as a student at U of M, my first time in Chicago, my first road trip with friends (as opposed to family).
The conference itself was informative and inspiring. The first keynote speaker, Patrisse Cullors (yes, the Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement), set the mood for the conference with her moving words, “Our resistance has always been queer.” Peter Staley and Jannicet Gutierrez were also keynotes for the conferences. I will not deny shedding a few tears during Staley’s powerful speech, or when Gutierrez shared her story. All the speakers were empowering and emotional, giving everyone hope for a brighter tomorrow, and the strength to continue resistance and existence during these hard times. One of the most poignant quotes that remained with me even weeks after the event was “Mi Existir es Resistir”—“My Existence is Resistance.” There was a very powerful moment at the conclusion of Jannicet’s speech, where she had the crowd repeat those very words after her.
But the conference wasn’t only filled with powerful words and emotional moments. Throughout the weekend, participants attended workshops oriented towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Some were more fun and visual (such as the Kink 101 workshop which I actually attended), and others were more serious and mission-oriented (like the Direct Action 101 workshop), but all were very informative. The entire weekend was filled with action, knowledge, and history; it was an amazing opportunity and experience for me and many others.
However, the MBLGTACC made me realize two very important things. One, that contemporary curriculums are still lacking in LGBTQIA+ education, as well as representation. Of course, this is a fairly apparent realization. Because of the marginalization and oppression of the community, especially in regards to intersecting identities (fun fact: despite what popular culture and mainstream media might have told you, the first stone at Stonewall was not thrown by a white gay man, but by a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson), it’s fairly easy for even the most liberal of college campuses to assume heteronormativity and gloss over people and movements crucial to not only the community, but to US history as a whole. While U of M does offer a Introduction to LGBTQ Studies class, there is only so much a professor can teach within a 4 credit course. And on top of that, isolating all that knowledge into one queer studies class assures that only those seeking that knowledge will find it. The histories and needs of the LGBT community and their contributions to society should be the focus of not just Women’s Studies classes; they should be included within topics such as English, History, and Political Science. Medical students should be aware that not everyone fits the neat little boxes the medical community loves to sort people into, and it’s about time we start to find ways to make medical care easier and more accessible to transgender, nonbinary, and intersex folks. Those studying politics and public policy should be aware of the innate and multidimensional struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community to properly advocate on its behalf. Students of history and anthropology should be made aware of the historical social constructs of sexuality, and how these impacted the identities of many historical figures, and shaped cultures around the world. It’s 2017, it’s time schools recognize these changes need to made, and started taking action to make them, rather than just giving the issue lip-service.
Another thing this conference made me realize, is just how inaccessible conferences are to so many others. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the RHA, and so I basically only had to pay for food and souvenirs. But the conference, even though it was one of the more inclusive I’ve attended, also had its faults. Not even considering the obvious factors such as travel and boarding expenses, there were still so many obstacles standing in participants’ way. As lovely as the city is, Chicago is expensive as hell. I know of a few people who were forced to stay at the hotel because they couldn’t afford to eat out. And the conference itself was about a 15 minute walk away from the hotel, which might pose a serious problem for those who who deal with chronic pain, or have issues with mobility due to disability. And while, granted, these are not issues everyone has to face, I believe it is important to not generalize participants’ experiences and stories for the sake of having a nice backdrop for your conference. And I don’t mean to single MBLGTACC out here, because this is an issue I see at virtually every conference I’ve ever been to. It takes more than trigger warnings in the program booklet, or gender inclusive restrooms to make a conference truly accessible.
But I digress, and will take a step down from the soapbox now. I truly had an amazing time in Chicago (even though I somehow managed to spend $30 on candy), and I learned many important things at the conference (from how to properly use ropes in a sex scene to femme history). And if I seem passionate over minuscule things (although I would argue that these are not minuscule issues at all) such as a lack of queer tidbits in classes, or a 15 minute walk, it’s because I truly believe it to be important to have takeaway points and criticisms of even the most inclusive environments so we can strive to do better in all aspects. I sincerely encourage anyone, from all walks of life and who embodies any identities to participate in next year’s MBLGTACC. I know I’ll be there for sure.
Event Coordinator, What the F Magazine