Photo courtesy of Camille Farmer
MTSU hosted the annual LGBT+ College Conference awards dinner on Saturday where students, faculty and members of the community were honored for their efforts toward inclusion.
This year, the conference theme was All Identities, and the awards began with Greg Cason, the President of the Nissan Business Synergy Team, discussing Nissan’s efforts to be inclusive to people of all identities. He also spoke about Middle Tennessee’s strides towards accommodation to individuals of diverse backgrounds.
“I hope we all leave inspired to hold an active role in our fight,” Cason said.
Following Cason, activists Beverly Watts, Executive Director of the Tennessee Human Rights Campaign, Elizabeth Villasana, President of MT LAMBDA, and Jonathan Breeding, an MTSU alumni and founder of the LGBT Heroes Scholarship fund spoke to the crowd.
Jonathan Breeding discussed his LGBT Heroes Scholarship fund and the impact he hopes it has on students of MTSU. He talked about his coming-out story and the fact that he was told to leave the state. Breeding said that with his scholarship, no student should feel that they do not belong.
The event’s keynote speaker, Renee McLaughlin, spoke about her own personal struggles, and the efforts of MTSU students. McLaughlin is a senior medical executive with Cigna Healthcare. She started by speaking about MT Lambda, MTSU’s higher education LGBT+ organization, being a “beacon for struggling students.”
McLaughlin said she broke her life and identity into separate spheres. She believes that each piece of her life works together to create her perfect self. She said that she was a Christian, a parent, a child, an employee, a friend, a partner, and a transgender.
“I am an ordinary person, living an ordinary life, who happens to be transgender,” McLaughlin said. “Each one is essential to who I am. All of our identities interact and influence each other.”
She, then, took the audience on a tour of each identity, explaining how each one has affected her life. She spoke about her struggles with her family when she came out as transgender, and the issues she faced in her employment.
“We want employees unencumbered by discrimination,” she said.
She ended her keynote address with a Dr. Seuss quote, which she said encompassed the one lesson she wanted the audience to take from her speech.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind,” McLaughlin said.
After McLaughlin’s speech, Cason began announcing the award winners. The first award was the Terry Whiteside Ally in Diversity Award, named for the dean of the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences at MTSU in 2014. The meaning of the award was to honor someone who was an ally to the LGBT+ community, wherever they lived, worked, or played. The award was presented to Dr. Marion Wilson, Assistant to the President of MTSU for Institutional Equity and Compliance.
Next, the Civic Advocacy Award, meant to honor individuals for their civic works in support of LGBT+ community members through any kind of civic related advocacy efforts, was presented to MTSU faculty members Jessica Kratzer, assistant professor of interpersonal communication, and Mary Beth Asbury, assistant professor of communication and identity.
The Wayne C. Rosing award, named after an advisor of Lambda in the ’90s, went to John Weaver, a founder of Lambda who recently passed away. The present advisor, Joshua Rigsby, spoke about Weaver’s bravery for starting the organization. According to Rigsby, at the time when it was founded, members would frequently receive death threats and were silenced constantly.
Other award winners included PFLAG Nashville President Kathy Halbrooks (Community Excellence Award), President of Cracker Barrel’s LGBT Alliance Steve Smotherman (Diane Easter Corporate Engagement Award) and MTSU senior Morgan Hunlen (Academic Advancement Award).