The Western Regional Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally College Conference was hosted at Cal Poly by the Pride Center this past weekend for the first time in the event’s 20-year history. The center coordinated more than 60 workshops and welcomed approximately 700 people during the three-day conference. Attendants discussed everything from sexual health to religion to bondage.
The event officially kicked off Saturday morning with an opening speech by Joan Garry, former Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation executive director. Garry and her partner challenged a law in New Jersey and became the first same-sex couple to have equal legal rights with their children. In her opening speech, Garry talked about her family and breaking misconceptions about same-sex couples. One point she was proud to make was that her children were the minority among their friends not because they have same-sex parents, but because they have parents who are not divorced. Garry said her struggles fighting against stereotypes and laws prohibiting same-sex marriage or equality has led her to have a view of the world that is clearer.
“I believe that being gay is not my kryptonite,” Garry said. “I believe it is my super power.”
Garry urged all attendants to run with their ‘super power’ and to run with pride, an idea that seemed to be a strong point in many of the workshops. In “Bad Gay!” a workshop about the stereotypes within the same-sex community, students talked about breaking molds such as the idea that gay men don’t know how to work on cars or are hypersexual. In particular, many of the attendants of the workshop said it was important for them to stop policing each other to fit into a certain mold. University of California, Berkeley sophomore Ray Hajduk said the pressure to be a certain way is felt from all directions.
“There’s always been a lot of reaction toward calling me heteronormative or things of that nature, and I definitely understand that people feel pressure to be that way by outside society, but I think there’s also pressure within our own community to not be that way,” Hajduk said.
Feeling pressure was a key point in the discussion led by Reverend Caroline Hall in her discussion about the Bible and sex. Hall, who is a pastor at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Los Osos, said she wanted to show that God’s love is unconditional by giving examples of the stories in which sex is mentioned throughout the Bible. Hall argued that neither in the stories nor in the words of Jesus is there anything that explicitly states that homosexuality is unholy. She said discussions about religion and sex are important because of the notion that God doesn’t accept gay people.
“Religion and homophobia are tied together politically, so they used to really exclude us. So I think it’s really important to understand other ways of understanding the material so that you can know for yourself that God does love us totally, unconditionally,” Hall said. “There’s just all this misinformation about gay people not being acceptable, and that’s not OK with me.”
More importantly, Hall wanted attendants to walk away from her discussion knowing that there are Christian churches available that accept gay and lesbian people. This, she says, is because of her experiences as a woman in her early-20s, during a time when there was no one to tell her it was OK to be a lesbian and a Christian.
“For a long time I tried to be Christian, then I was lesbian, then I was Christian again, and at one point I was suicidal in the middle of all that,” Hall said. “I was in my 30’s before I’d come to understand that actually I’m fine the way I am and God loves me the way I am, and so it’s important for me to communicate that as well as I can.”
Learning new things in general was just as important for many students who had never attended the conference before. This weekend was the first time UC Berkeley students Andy Albright and Anthony Lucas had ever been to the event; both said they enjoyed the variety of topics available. Albright said participating in a wide range of topics is important to becoming more knowledgeable about the LGBTQIA community in general.
“I feel like it’s important because we know things about the queer community but we don’t know everything, and there are some people who are uninformed on some issues, so it’s good to learn more,” Albright said.
Learning and making smart decisions concerning musical choices was the theme in Tomas Bell‘s discussion, “Hip-Hop, Homophobia and the Nappy Headed Hoes.” Bell, a singer, producer and actor, led students in a discussion about the history of hip-hop and how it has changed from the early days when groups would musically battle each other for territory to today when marking one’s territory usually involves violence.
He encouraged the classroom of students to think about the reasons why musical artists, both homosexual and heterosexual, refer to women as ‘bitches,’ are defined by their sexual position and feel the need to hold up a strong masculine image. Questioning the notions of race and sex was what made Bell’s workshop a favorite for University of California, Santa Barbara sophomore Chris Rodd.
“It was excellent,” Rodd said. “It’s topics like these that aren’t really discussed much in peer conferences with like race and stuff, so it’s good that this was done. I’m going to his next one, too.”
Overall, the conference was considered a success despite a last-minute influx of almost 200 attendants that had coordinators scrambling to accommodate with program packets.
“I think to take something on like this is really courageous, and if evidenced by nothing else but the success rate and the increased number of applicants and how many happy people there are running around, I think Cal Poly’s done a really great job,” Lucas said.