By Patricia Weber
During the weekend of Feb. 25, 11 Beloit College students drove to Ann Arbor, Mich. to attend the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Trans Ally College Conference (MBLGATCC), where college students and faculty from around the Midwest came to talk about queer issues. Workshops offered by presenters covered a variety of subjects, such as putting on drag shows, being better leaders and resources to our campuses, and health concerns related to queerness. There is a lot of information to bring back to the campus about what we learned at MBLGTACC, and this article allows some insight to the new knowledge that five of us have learned.
Mara Haupert ’11, Conference Coordinator
My time at MBGLTACC convinced me that Beloit is actually ahead of many Midwest schools in terms of LGBT equality on campus. I found myself speaking frequently about the progress we’ve made toward gender-neutral housing, gender-neutral bathrooms, and general on-campus tolerance, and I was forced to acknowledge that we have things pretty good here. Our administration is sympathetic to the needs of the LGBT community, the faculty offer classes which explore queer theory and history, and the student body is quite tolerant of LGBT individuals. In contrast, some of the other MBLGTACC attendees came from schools where LGBT organizations are banned and daily harassment is typical for anyone brave enough to be out. While there is certainly room to improve Beloit, we should also take the time to acknowledge the truly positive, LGBT-affirming parts of our campus.
Alice Mitchell ’13
This year’s MBLGTACC was an eye-opening experience for me. It was refreshing being in a space where assumptions about sexual orientations and gender identities rarely occurred. This conference was an accepting place of non-conforming identities in a world where human experiences are vastly different and acceptance is not always readily available. People attending this conference made sure to be as inclusive as possible, which does not occur in many other places. Even in a place like Beloit where we claim to have open minds about everything, there are assumptions that pervade our discourse and are often detrimental to our experiences in and outside of classes.
The workshops that I attended gave me many ideas that I could bring to my interactions on campus. They ranged from looking at privilege in the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign (privilege of ability, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, etc.) to Audre Lorde’s concepts of the difference between anger and hatred. The other workshops I attended looked at queer representations in libraries and digital libraries, coalitions between queer organizations on the same campus, stereotypes of queerness and the difficulties in media representations, and a condensed version of GLSEN’s Safe Space program and a discussion on how to implement it at our respective schools.
These workshops also showed me ways that we, the students of Beloit College, can improve this campus. Stereotypes and assumptions, while difficult to accept, emerge constantly in our day-to-day lives, and there are some that are never challenged, which causes more problems than it solves. This campus, while professing to be open-minded, is still close-minded in very ignorant and oftentimes inappropriate ways, for instance using the phrase ‘no homo’ and other homophobic slurs. MBLGTACC has convinced me that I can no longer stay silent about the things I hear and see on this campus. It has given me strategies to combat these issues in ways that are distinctly productive and lead to a community that is more accepting, or at the very least more educated, about the lifestyles of students with non-conforming gender identities and sexual practices and orientations.
Rachel Smith, ’13
I attended a workshop entitled ‘Able to Advocate: Disability and Queerness.’ We discussed how issues concerning queerness and ableism show up in the social world, such as staring at people with disabilities, and the awkwardness that comes with “having to” come out. We also brought up the point that with the advent of handicapped bathrooms, people started to think about having gender-neutral bathrooms. We talked about ability issues such as: if you have a disability, you will not achieve in life, and there being a concept of a “cure” to a disability.
The second workshop I attended was ‘Empowering Faggots: The Power of Storytelling and Reclaiming Language.’ We discussed reclaiming terms such as faggot and dyke; specifically, how a word does not have meaning unless you give it one. We agreed that context is everything when it comes to language. The word we most discussed was ‘queer’ and how it is used as an umbrella term. It can be offensive and empowering
at the same time. Some people may not want to be under the queer umbrella or even a part of the queer community. We asked the question: “Do people throw out their identity that they fought for when they use the term ‘queer’?”
The attendees of the ‘Gay and Greek’ caucus discussed how fraternities and sororities could recruit more queer members to join Greek life. We brought up the issue of being recognized by IFPC and other councils on college campuses. People talked about how there is no national recognition for trans members.
Emily Kittell-Queller, ’13
On Saturday morning I attended a workshop titled ‘Let’s Break the (Binary) Rules.’ I walked into a room full of about three hundred people and a discussion about sex, gender, and sexuality binaries. Then someone brought up the point that even by using the terms ‘us’ and ‘them’ to describe people inside and outside the queer community, we were setting up a binary. We were off, talking about queer vs. non-queer, intersex conditions, and problems with the Kinsey scale. We discussed the binaries of not only sex and gender, but also success, happiness, attractiveness, race, class, and dominance. Every person in that room walked out of there with another barrier broken down, another set of categories to question.
This proceeded to overshadow all other official events that day until my evening workshop: ‘The Bible and Homosexuality.’ The woman leading it, a member of the Metropolitan Community Churches, proceeded to spend the entire hour striding up and down the room discussing the scholarly arguments over everything from the rules in Leviticus to the sin of Sodom to the one supposed condemnation of lesbians in the entire Bible, found in Romans. In doing so she reminded me of something I’d always known: there is room for all of us, no matter how we identify, in terms of religion as well as sexuality and gender.
Patricia Weber ‘14
I felt lucky to go to the conference as a freshman. I felt I was able to learn ideas that I could use for the next three years of my college life. I loved meeting new people who shared the same ideas as me.
Some of the workshops I attended allowed me to see how much better off Beloit College is compared to other colleges. Some Alliances did not have a structured leadership, and some did not have the means to fundraise for their club. Other workshops allowed me to view society in a different way. The ‘Bi/Pan/Fluid’ workshop showed me how people only see your sexual orientation as the person(s) you walk down the street with. If you are bisexual and do not date both sexes at the same time than you are not a real bisexual. This is false, and in the workshop the speaker taught us how to educate people more about the bi/pan/fluid sexualities.
This conference is important to Midwest colleges to help students spread diversity around their campuses. The students are able to learn how to start movements on campus from other students who were in the same place just a few years ago. For instance, Beloit College’s Trans Rights Representation Committee (TRRC) is working on gender-neutral housing/bathrooms, and we were able to let other students know the process we had to go through in order to get these privileges.
It was important that Beloit College’s Alliance went to the conference this year because we were able to take out a few ideas to apply to the club and campus as a whole. The most important idea we took from the conference was the sense of pride of being at a college who accepts people for who they are.