By Joshua Bergeron | LSU Student
College students from around the state, donning rainbow flags and multicolored hair, descended on LSU for the third annual Louisiana Queer Conference this past weekend.
More than 200 attendees represented LSU, University of Louisiana/Lafayette, Tulane, Loyola, Centenary College of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Community College and River Parishes Community College.
The conference featured 18 workshops, a state of the movement panel report and a keynote speech from Allison Gill, governmental affairs director of the Trevor Project, a national organization dedicated to preventing suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered and queer youth.
Leaders say they beginning to see the fruits of its labor in the form of legislation. An example, State Senate Bill 764, passed in 2012, prohibits bullying at schools or school sponsored events.
Equality Louisiana was also born out of the Louisiana Queer Conference. It's a statewide coalition of 30 organizations that was heavily involved in lobbying for the anti-bullying bill. It continues to lobby the Louisiana legislature to pass LGBT friendly legislation.
The LSU Faculty Senate and LSU Student Government Senate passed legislation recently urging the university to add domestic partner benefits to its health insurance.
The LGBT equality movement is about more than legislation, according to Gill. "Local policy change is great, but I think education is the best way to make a positive change in the community. It's what this conference is about – turning education into action."
Spectrum president Kameron Kilchrist welcomed before they dispersed into morning workshops, which addressed a variety of lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and queer issues, including "Domestic Violence in the Queer Community" and "Lobbying Your Legislators."
A panel reported on the state of the movement, addressing a gamut of issues, but focused on increasing involvement among the Louisiana LGBT community.
Getting cisgender or straight people involved is part of increasing involvement, according to Julie Thompson, president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays New Orleans (PFLAG Nola). Allies are defined as being supportive of the LGBT community, regardless of sexual orientation.
"Getting non-minorities involved was an essential part of the civil rights movement," Thompson said. "It's important to get allies involved in the LGBT movement as well."
But allies can't get involved unless the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender also push for change, said Sherrie Williams, board chair of the Capital City Alliance. Many people come out, but don't get involved in the LGBT community. People come out and get comfortable. They forget about the hardships of others."
Equality Louisiana awards, entitled to recipients called Louisiana Legends, people who endorsed the "principle of working together to make things better, across organization lines and party lines."
The Louisiana Legends award winners included the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Stephen Handwerk; LGBTQ activist Mary Griggs and PFLAG New Orleans Secretary Courtney Sharp. State of the Movement panelists Critcher and Thompson also received Louisiana Legends awards.
The conference wrapped up with Gill's keynote speech, which focused on her involvement with the LGBT community. She told the story of being transgender.
"My sister and I were headed to a conference," she said. "Unfortunately, we got pulled over by a police officer. It was my first time out being dressed as a woman."