This year, the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference – or MBLGTACC for short – was held on Navy Pier in Chicago, IL from February 17-19. It was the conference’s twenty-fifth anniversary!
I attended last year’s conference, held at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, and wrote about the experience shortly afterward. I knew that this year’s post was going to run just as long as last year’s did, but I was so busy this spring semester that I didn’t have time to sit down and write it. Soooo… I’ve saved it for Pride month instead! I enjoyed myself just as much this time around and I’m excited to share my thoughts about the conference with you!
(I also wrote an article about the experience for Her Campus, if you’d like to check that out!)
Honestly, this day was pretty low-key but I think everyone in our little group from UI felt that it was a big success compared to the first day of MBLGTACC in 2016 when we got super lost and wound up driving around on backroads in the middle of nowhere, Indiana! Our drive from Iowa City to Chicago was pretty uneventful.
Once in the city, we checked in to a super-nice hotel. I still don’t know how my friend who booked our rooms managed to snag such a nice place for so cheaply? Like, it was easily the fanciest-ass place I’ve ever stayed.
We drove to the conference center at Navy Pier just in time for the opening ceremony and the keynote address, which was given by the #BlackLivesMatter leader Patrisse Cullors. I had actually heard her speak at an event at my school earlier that month, so it was cool to see her again!
Afterward, we grabbed dinner and spent the rest of the evening hanging out in our hotel rooms, listening to music, snacking, and painting each other’s nails.
The bulk of the workshops MBLGTACC is known for take place on Saturday each year, so that day was packed with things to do!
Lesbian Identity Forum: I skipped the first workshop to attend this forum because there was no way I wasn’t hanging out with my fellow lesbeans. (Side note: I am SO FRUSTRATED that identity forums were scheduled to overlap with workshops this year instead of having their own timeslot! I know a lot of people who weren’t able to attend everything they wanted to because of this. Sigh.) I had a great time here… I met up with a bunch of friends from last year’s identity forum and we played “never have I ever” just like we did in 2016.
Challenging The Queer Aesthetic; Shifting Our Perspectives: This workshop first dealt with some of the ways we stereotype and label each other, then transitioned to a discussion of LGBTQ+ representation in the media (!!!). In particular, we looked at Google image search results, discussing the different ways gender (non-)conformity, race, intimacy, et cetera were portrayed for various sexual orientations and gender identities.
State of the Region: This was a panel hosted by the Midwest Institute for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Five of its leaders shared their personal experiences of the past year, highlighted issues facing LGBTQ+ communities in Midwestern America, and answered any questions attendees had about the political and social climate of this area. Considering the short amount of time allotted, this workshop was super comprehensive and I’m very glad I went!
Grassroots Mental Health – A ❤ to ❤ Puddle: This workshop focused on how to make the best of a bad situation. What do you do when mental health resources in your area are inaccessible, prejudiced, or nonexistent? Together, we learned how to DIY our own peer support and group therapy.
Self Care Zine Workshop: Probably my favorite workshop of the entire conference! I actually have yet to finish my zine because the time flew by, but I did make some pages with my favorite soothing Carrie Fisher quote (“stay afraid, but do it anyway”) and I’m planning to make a couple of pages with little reminders + illustrations of self care tips!
#BlackGirlMagic – The RAINBOW Edition: This was the ONLY lesbian-specific workshop of MBLGTACC! I wish there had been more, but luckily this one was outstanding. The workshop leader briefly discussed bi, pan, and trans women, but explained that since she was a lesbian, she was mostly concerned with seeing other black lesbians portrayed in the media. She explained how the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag on Twitter and other social media sites provides black girls and women with predominantly straight role models and frequently downplays or outright ignores the contributions of black lesbians.
On Saturday, I also bought a double venus necklace (similar to these; it’s a lesbian symbol) at a vendor booth and picked up a bunch of pamphlets, stickers, and the like at various org booths.
We skipped the second keynote by ACT UP leader Peter Staley, who fought for better treatment for those with HIV/AIDS. It wasn’t that we weren’t interested – in fact, I would have loved to stay – but everyone was super hungry, so we ditched.
Later, most of the other UI students went to the drag show, while one other girl and I joined others on a bus ride to a museum exhibit titled Art AIDS America. The exhibit explored the history of AIDS both in the world as a whole and in Chicago. It was fascinating and heartbreaking. I have a lot of thoughts about it, so I’ll be talking about it in more depth in another post a few days from now. [You can now find that post here.]
Sunday was, thankfully, a mostly relaxing day!
Queer Activism Burnout: As you can see, attending workshops about mental health was something of a priority for me! In the wake of the election, many LGBTQ+ people I know dealt with burnout from trying to take on too much activist work. I figured I could use a reminder that I don’t have to do everything. Plus, I picked up some strategies for effective activism that balances social justice with taking care of your state of mind!
Trans Women in Video Games: I suck at video games and… honestly can’t remember the last time I played one. But I have a ton of friends both IRL and online who are trans women gamers, so I was really curious to learn more about this niche community and see what attracts so many trans women to gaming! Throughout the workshop, we also learned about indie video games by and about trans women, which was awesome.
After the last workshop session, my group attended the third and final keynote address, delivered by Jennicet Gutiérrez. She founded the activist group La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and is known for interrupting Obama’s 2015 Pride speech at the White House in order to protest the treatment of trans women of color and LGBTQ+ immigrants.
Obviously, I can’t speak to what Peter Staley’s speech was like, but from listening to Cullors and Gutiérrez, I can confidently say that the mood of the conference was one of resistance and perseverance! The new presidential administration is virulently anti-LGBTQ+, but we won’t give up.
One final thing, which I’m including here because I still find it hilarious even months later: My friend Madeline (who I met at the lesbian identity forum the year before) showed up to the conference on Sunday morning wearing the same exact pink plaid flannel. LESBIANS IS THE SAME.
I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to attend MBLGTACC a second time! I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference – which will be held at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, NE.
Were you at MBLGTACC this year as well, or have you ever attended the conference in the past?
P.S. Stay tuned for my post about Art AIDS America!