Reflections on MBLGTACC
On a cold Thursday night in February at three in the morning, with a freak snow flurry happening, eighteen members of UMSL’s queer-straight alliance, Prizm, gathered outside my campus apartment to pile into rental vans for a ten hour car ride to [wikipop]Ann Arbor, Michigan[/wikipop]. The reason we’d endure such a commute? The Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Trangender and Allies Collegiate Conference; MBLGTACC, verbalized “Mumble-Tac” or nicknamed “The Big Gay Conference”, is held annually to bring together LGBT student organizations from around the Midwestern US. Although people from all over the US and abroad still attend.
The conference rotates campuses each year with an annual oversight committee voting on future campus bids while at the conference. This year the host was the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with an attendance of roughly 1,400 people, and 2012 is lined up to be Iowa State University. Past locations include Urbana, IL, Bloomington, IN, and Madison, WI to name only the last few years.
The conference runs along the same lines each year. One can expect 3-4 key note presenters, 1 night’s entertainment on campus (usually a dance at the student union), 1 night’s entertainment in the local community, and a slew of over a hundred workshops, seminars and caucuses to attend!
[wikipop]Mara Keisling[/wikipop], founder of the [wikipop]National Center for Transgender Equality[/wikipop] (NCTE), was the opening keynote and framed the conference’s theme, Justice or Just Us, beautifully. She reminded those in attendance to think about all of the sub-communities under, within and adjacent to the rainbow umbrella of the [wikipop]LGBT[/wikipop] community and to not forget about them. You can watch part of Mara Keisling’s plenary on YouTube.
The whole imagery I walked away with was to never reach for the stars by climbing over those reaching with you, and to pull up those whom fate or circumstances had let fall behind. Much thought and discussion was provoked about the LGBT community’s common goals with an emphasis on making sure we all arrive at the finish line together.
Several workshops utilized this theme, calling attention to injustices or bridging the community together, while many others can be summed-up as conference standards. Such workshops span the frame from community & acceptance education such as “Transgender 101” or “Breaking the (Bi)nary”, to advice & help sessions such as “Improving Your GSA” , to programming ideas like “Gender-Neutral Bathrooms.” (Click here for all of the 2011 workshops.)
These are the workshops that repeat each year to continue the spread of education, or in case you missed it last time. Since there are so many workshops over such a small window of time, it is impossible to attend everything that you might want to over just one conference. It’s an amazing appeal that drives many to want to attend again and see a new set of workshops.
State caucuses are also held but are blocked off as their own time, as so to not conflict with other workshops. Caucuses are meetings that bring together a sub-community to talk about communal issues and network, and are divided by topic. The Missouri Caucus discusses what has happened throughout the state over the last year, elects representatives to the conference oversight committee, and aims to be a network of support for fledgling groups or those having a particularly hard year. A few years back, the Missouri Caucus even uploaded itself to Facebook to be better connected & allied across the state.
Many caucuses exist and Queer People of Color (QPOC) is a particularly popular caucus with the UMSL delegation, as well as popping in on the Trans Caucus among others. You don’t need to belong to a particular sub-culture to attend a caucus; it’s yet another way one can get to know a particular facet of such a diverse community.
One of my greatest joys of the conference is running into other community focused adult educators, like trans activist and educator JAC Stringer. It is a great experience meeting new people and new perspectives while building that great sense of community. This year I met an advisor from another college who said something very sentimental that has made me fall in love with the conference all over again.
She reflected back on her Safe Zone training, to the part where you are asked to imagine a world where being gay was normal and it was heterosexuality that was in the minority. She said, as if in a great epiphany, that the conference was that world: that for the first time in many of their lives, her students could be themselves without fear of backlash, or hatred, or disrespect. That for the first time in her life, she, as a straight ally, suddenly knew what it felt to be in the sexual minority. And that as an educator, as a mother, and as a human being she wanted nothing else from the world than to make every one of her students feel as comfortable every day of their lives as they felt for those three short, glorious days.
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