Even on a LGBTQ+ friendly campus in Ann Arbor that has many queer students and some gay organizations, there’s nothing quite like being in a building with hundreds of queer students from all over the Midwest and beyond. MBLGTACC is the annual student-run Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Ally College Conference hosted at various colleges around the Midwest. I attended MBLGTACC 2020 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI with the Spectrum Center and a group of 15 other delegates. Conferences are exciting, and I highly recommend MBLGTACC as means to educate yourself about queer communities that you are not a part of and to connect with those that share some or all of your identities, but I think it is important to discuss mental health and accessibility while in a conference and/or queer conference environment.
Visibility The great thing about going to a queer conference is queer visibility. Everyone around you signed up to be there, so you know that they are comfortable with you wearing your “Girls Like Girls and Boys” shirt or your rainbow socks or your sweater that looks exactly like your sexual identity flag, but what happens when you leave? There are so many opportunities for attendees to collect and/or buy tshirts, full-sized flags, enamel pins, hats, gloves, anything you can possibly think of that can have a pride flag printed on it is available, but what happens when “look, don’t touch” is ingrained in your mind, because you know that once you leave this space, you will not be returning to another safe space. I am lucky. I am out to my friends and most of my family, but I could tell that for many this was an unrecognized privilege. I think this nagging can take a mental toll on your identity, so if it was you with the longing glance towards that really cute “Queer and Proud” sticker, I want you to know that it’s okay. I recognize the effort that you took to be here, and you don’t need a sticker to be “Queer and Proud” because you are doing it just fine already.
Respect I know this next section contradicts the acceptance I mentioned in the last section, but I think it’s really important to mention the different experiences of other minorities within the LGBTQ+ community. We all have different experiences because of our identities. Colorism exists. Racism exists. Ableism exists. Ageism exists. Sexism exists. Classism exists. A million other things exist that separate our experiences within the LGBTQ+ community. We can not be a community that values inclusion but still treats people differently based on something as simple as the color of their skin. There was one workshop I attended on the rhetoric and discourse over the pride flag with black and brown stripes. The one thing that I took away from this presentation is the proliferation of the idea that “I can’t be racist because I am gay.” This flag was made to call attention to those in our community that have been disrespected and ignored because they are human beings with more than one identity.Respect people’s pronouns. Respect people’s identities. Respect people’s intersectionality, always. Anxiety If there was one thing that every experienced conference attendee warned me about that I was still underprepared for, it would be the amount of energy a conference can suck out of you in such a short amount of time. What makes conferences like MBLGTACC so good, is that there is so much to do. There’s so many workshops to attend and speakers to listen to and people to meet, that sometimes it can be overwhelming. I feared missing out and taking this opportunity for granted, but luckily I had people to remind me that mental health is important. If you attend a conference, please take time to check in with yourself and with others. Mental breaks are so important and necessary. Pay attention to your own wellbeing.