LGBT students attend annual conference

By Laura Latzko - March 26, 2015

For the fifth consecutive year, students engaged in group discussions, interactive activities, literary analyses, teambuilding exercises and personal stories, as part of the Queering Arizona conference – the only LGBT student activism conference in the state.

Hailing from universities and community colleges throughout the state, 172 students shared their insights on queer fashion, identities, activism, microaggressions, faith, community organizing, inclusive queer spaces, asexuality and being a good ally.

Representatives from the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF), the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, HERO and professors facilitated conference workshops.

Francisco Galarte, an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at University of Arizona, gave the keynote speech and led a fashion workshop.

Galarte, also the faculty fellow for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs at the university, said the fashion workshop allowed him to get into a broader discussion with the students on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and class issues.

Three representatives of QUIP shared the ways in which LGBT people, especially transgender women, are subject to harsh treatment inside of Arizona’s detention centers.

Ezequiel Santos of QUIP, a “DREAMer” who came to the United States at age 2, said he’s faced issues obtaining a driver license, getting financial aid and finding acceptance in different communities.

“Being undocumented, you hear people telling you to ‘go home,’” Santos said. “In Mexico, you’re considered more American than Mexican. You get lost in this gray area of identity.”

FROM A STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

Following the conference, students shared their thoughts on the conversations and experiences this forum provided them.

Cassanda Bizon, Northern Arizona University

Bizon, the president of NAU’s PRISM, found herself engaging in a poignant discussion on race as a participant in the “On Being ‘Other’ and Queer” workshop.

“All my life I was told that I’m too white and I can’t be Mexican and I couldn’t be both. So being in college and having that identity revisited has been really nice for me,” Bizon said. “When you are in elementary school, you don’t understand … It’s easy to get lost in the system, and it’s easy for teachers to take away your identity and replace it with what they perceive you as … When you go to college, and you learn about intersectionality, you learn you can be both and just because you don’t look it doesn’t mean you aren’t it.”

Christina Yelvington, UofA

According to Yelvington, attending a workshop called “Engaging Faith Groups” vastly changed her perspective on how LGBT people fit into faith organizations and helped her to build bridges within herself.

“Sometimes I feel queer folks are excluded from the religion conversation in a lot of ways. We turn on the TV, and there’s some rich old white guy telling me that, ‘I’m going to hell because who I love is wrong,’” Yelvington said. “It felt good for me to see there are plenty of queer folks who are a part of the faith community who don’t feel that way, that there is a place for queer folks in faith.”

Dayna Broder, UofA

Broder went into Queering Arizona not knowing what to expect, being the only person at the conference in a wheelchair, she said she felt compelled to speak up about ableism.

“Nobody really accounted for disabilities when they planned this program. It was interesting to go in with my chair and point out, ‘This is ableism. You didn’t account for this at all,’” Broder said. “I wasn’t the only disabled person. I might have been the only obviously disabled person there. One of the things that really makes me angry is having ableism glossed over. Going there and being a representative gave me a chance to really discuss with the program directors ways they could make their programs more accessible.”

Kerry Yamauchi, NAU

Yamauchi, who attended the conference in makeup and heels, said the event allowed him to express himself, opened up conversations with others and gain awareness about watching his own speech and actions as a queer activist

“As a queer activist, I want to practice damage control in the way that I speak, and the way that I act. It made me question how much I understand and how much I need to work to become a better activist,” Yamauchi said. “Even walking around campus in makeup and heels and holding your head up high and being confident … really shows people that, whether or not they are OK or not with queer people, this is a reality of the world.”

Nic Alavi, Arizona State University

The discussion of microagressions in the “No Fats, No Fems, No Blacks” workshop gave Alavi a deeper understanding on finding and responding to oppressive language in everyday life.

“… The most important form of activism is in my social interactions with coworkers,” Alavi said. “I’m out at work, and every now and then, I get things like misgendering or I get statements about my sexuality, which are really implicit and subtle. I think it is important to take this knowledge of how that is a microaggression and turn it into a conversation.”

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