Story and Photos by Stephanie Hall | Contributing Writer
After two years, the 9th annual LGBT+ College Conference was finally held in person over the weekend in the Student Union at Middle Tennessee State University.
The conference invites LGBT+ organizations across the state to come to take part in panels, listen to many guest speakers and view exhibits from LGBT+ History. Despite the chilly weather, the conference allowed many to connect with other LGBT+ and ally students.
The theme this year was “All Identities: Taking the Next Step” and included the ability for attendees to watch in-person and virtually.
The conference also had displays for the AIDS memorial quilt panel and the Black Lesbian Archives. The two showcased important history for the LGBT+ community. And every day ended with a fun event, such as a film festival featuring films related to LGBT+ issues on Thursday, a game night on Friday and the awards dinner to close on Saturday.
The first day of the conference was on Thursday, April 7. The keynote speaker was La Shonda Mims, an MTSU professor of history and gender studies, who spoke about the lesbian voice in southern urban history. After her speech, the conference held two training sessions, one about interview preparation and the other about creating a supportive network for all LGBT+ students.
For Jen Marks, a coordinator of Student Life at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee. She hopes to learn from this conference and grow.
“I find conferences, and things like this invigorating and inspiring. I think we have a limited time left this year to let that percolate and take some action … I know it’s my responsibility to make sure that the time and the money that we spent, isn’t just gone into the ether,” said Marks.
The second day of the conference was on Friday, April 8, and started with a panel including students, writers and activists discussing queer narratives. The panel was moderated by Dr. Shane McCoy, a Lecturer in the Department of English and the general education English program coordinator.
“I really hope for students to learn, not just from the conference, but from us as faculty members, is that there are plenty of people in your corner. If there’s one outcome of the conference, I would really love it to be that students see us as resources,” said McCoy.
During the panel discussion, McCoy talked about their personal experiences when they were an MTSU student and how much MTSU has grown since then.
“This (conference) was not in existence in 2010. And over the past 10 years, it has just grown by leaps, for the better. And I think, if we continue that movement forward, we will definitely see much more progress over the next few decades,” McCoy said.
After the panel, students watched and discussed “The Archivettes,” a documentary about the Lesbian Herstory Archives, their history and the current troubles they face. After this, there were two more panels and a training session sponsored by Deliotte for people to attend. The panels featured guests from across Tennessee who are working and fighting for LGBT+ rights, especially in the workplace with the “Bringing Your Whole Self to Work Panel” and the “Workplace Spotlight.”
“Being able to go to a different area and meeting up with LGBT activists or thinkers which are inside of the state really has been an eye-opening experience. It’s made me personally very hopeful for how things are and how there are people who are just like me and are concerned about the same things as me,” said Cleveland State student Burch Harbison.
The last day was Saturday, April 9. Selena Hayes, the 2022 LGBT+ College Conference Advisory Board Chair and CEO of S&L Companies, gave the welcoming remarks on the final day. Hayes spoke of her own experience as a lesbian and about Connect, the media group that produces content focused on LGBT+ issues, experiences and resources.
“We are a hundred percent LGBTQ based. I mean, everything we do is based on what the community gives us feedback on what they want to see, what they want to hear about, what they might want to do. And so, we have a lot of events in stores as well, such as the health fair,” Hayes said.
The Health Fair is happening on April 30, from 10-4 and Hayes hopes that they can help local people find helpful and inclusive doctors for both physical and mental health.
After a small break, Dr. Shane McCoy got volunteers from the audience for the next panel, “Personal Reflections on Taking the Next Step.” The volunteers included Patrick Pyott, Associate Student Services with the Tennessee Board of Regents; Nova Dieter, an MTSU student graduating this year with a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing; Adam Peavy, president of MT Lambda; and Kirstie Boyd, a Financial Aid Counselor for Nashville State Community College.
The panelists discussed their experiences being queer and how they have been able to “take the next step.” The one thing they all mentioned was how having resources and people around them to help them allowed them to be more out. Attendees in the audience could relate to this.
“Being able to come here and be in a space where I can see people who not only are able to grow up and be successful despite Tennessee legislation, but to go out of their way to advocate for people like us, that’s been really valuable and I’ve seen more people that are like me in the past three days than I probably ever have in any of my prior schooling experience ever,” said a Cleveland State student named Arin.
After the panel and a short break, professor for MTSU history department Dr. Marisa Richmond spoke to the students. Her original speech was about being out in the south.
However, after Tennessee passing the House Bill 800, which bans teachers from teaching “controversial social issues.” Basically, this includes anything relating to the LGBT+ community, along with race theory.
Richmond finds this recent legislation disgusting, especially since she celebrated the day before about Ketanji Brown being confirmed to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. She believes that education shouldn’t be criminalized. Richmond was extremely inspiring for students in the audience.
“I think for me, it’s hard finding trans and queer people in general, let alone black trans and queer people around you. And so, I think it was really enlightening just even just to hear Dr. Richmond speak,” Marshall Bledsoe from Clevland State said.
During the lunch break, attendees could walk through the Religious and Community Organizations Fair, which featured booths from many local churches and organizations who are open to LGBT+ members. For the churches in attendance, they hope that they can show LGBT+ students that they can be Christian and queer.
One of these churches in attendance was “The Table” in downtown Nashville, which centers the voices of LGBT+ people. Pastor Don Bennett hopes to encourage students to attend.
I love you. God loves you and don’t let anybody tell you different.Pastor Don Bennett of “The Table”
Saturday also included a “Mindfulness Mediation Workshop” and the last panel discussion about being out in academia.
The convention came to an end with the conference awards dinner, which celebrated both the attendees and the presenters.
With the in-person return, the conference hopes to continue growing and encouraging people to be out and accepting.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ethan Pickering, email email@example.com.
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