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Annual BGLTQ Conference Centers on Resilience, Intersectionality

Harvard Law School.
Harvard Law School. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Paula M. Barberi and Simone C. Chu, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: March 5, 2018 at 3:05 p.m.

Hundreds gathered at the Law School for the fifth annual "Harvard LGBTQ Conference" Friday and Saturday to discuss inclusion, representation, and BGLTQ activism in today’s society.

The conference—titled “Resilience Through Love and Resistance”—drew students from across the College and Harvard’s graduate schools, as well as activists from around the nation. Conference events included panels, a film screening, and even a ‘vogue-ology’ workshop across the weekend.

Travon Free, a comedian and actor who has written for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”—and who is currently producing “Him or Her,” a comedy series about the dating life of a bisexual black man—spoke about the issue of representation in his opening keynote address.

Free said that, while he was growing up, he never saw people like him represented in the media.

“I had been looking for so long for an example, a role model,” he said. “And suddenly I realized, ‘Holy shit, it’s me. I’m the example.’ In that moment, I saw the hardship I’d experienced in a whole new light."

“It’s then that I realized these things didn’t happen to me, they happened for me. And I have been walking through darkness, but I can be someone else’s light,” Free added.

In previous years, the conference has been organized entirely by graduate students—though the event itself has always been open to undergraduates—but this year Haley C. Curtin ’18 joined as the first undergraduate organizer in the conference’s history.

The organizing team primarily included students from Harvard Law School, the Graduate School of Education, the Kennedy School, and the Business School.

While Curtin is officially on the operations team, she said she also acted as a “quasi-liaison” to the College. Curtin said she did notice an increase in undergraduate interest, especially on Facebook, following pubbing of the event via various queer student organizations on campus.

“I think it’s really great that College students are becoming more involved,” Curtin said.

“I would hope that overall, it just inspires people to continue to have these conversations and to recognize that in a lot of different fields, there are queer people,” she added. “In a lot of different spaces, there are voices that have stories to tell.”

Arthur Lipkin ’68, a consultant to the Mass. Safe Schools Program for LGBT Students, spoke on reaching the youth in a panel discussing resilience across BGLTQ communities.

Lipkin referenced New York’s Harvey Milk High School, a school specifically designed for BGLTQ youth. Lipkin said he thought the program comprised a good “emergency measure,” though he wants to see more structural changes to curricula in all schools.

“I’m happy to say that, after 30 years of hoping, we might have some queer content in our curriculum in Massachusetts. We finally have been accepted to post a number of curriculum units in social studies and language arts for high school students,” Lipkin said. “We’re trying to be deliberately intersectional and inclusive and have an impact not just on the kids in the Harvey Milk program.”

The conference also featured a panel entitled “Bridging Communities: Faith-Based Leadership,” which focused on the relationship between religion and sexuality. Panelists discussed their own experiences within their respective religious communities and urged attendees to remain resilient.

“They’re not angry at you. They’re angry at what they fear, and you need to understand what they fear, because otherwise you will never get the conversation going,” Rabbi Steven Greenberg said.

Curtin said she found the religion panel especially relevant because of how much recent attention has been focused on BGLTQ inclusion in religious spaces.

“It’s a really tough one because a lot of different traditions have certain things to say about LGBTQ issues, but that’s not to say we should shy away from those conversations,” Curtin said.

The conference closed with an address from Wash. Supreme Court Justice Mary I. Yu.

Yu spoke about her experiences as the state’s first Asian, Latina, and openly gay justice, as well as her journey to get to that position.

“The very presence of me is political,” she said.

Yu said the visibility of her identity has caused her some self-doubt over the course of her lifetime, but bringing her experiences to the judge’s bench helped change the opinions of others around her.

“I believe being there makes all the difference,” she said. “It wasn’t too long ago that it was also my court when I wasn’t there, that denied us in the state of Washington the right to marry the person that we love.”

—Staff writer Paula M. Barberi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @paulambarberi.

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