Students from the University of Tennessee Lambda Student Union attended the fourth annual Southeastern Regional Unity Conference held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Unity Conference, first held in 2001, has expanded its scope from a local gathering to a regional conference, incorporating the entire Southeastern United States. The first conference was an incredible success with participants from all over North Carolina. Now in its fourth year, participation has expanded to Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Lambda received an invitation to attend this year, making their first trip to the Unity Conference. The trip was made possible with the scholarships offered by the conference. Donna Dearmon, Vince Berry, Mandy Barton, and Ashe Smith attended, finding a friendly, welcoming GLBT community in Chapel Hill.
Conference director, Sarah Carucci welcomed participants and introduced keynote speaker, Mandy Carter. Carter has been a lifelong activist for queer, African American, and women’s rights. She opened with words of inspiration and words of encouragement to a new generation of queer activists.
This year’s theme for the Unity Conference was an “Unorthodox Union: Connecting the GLBTQ and Faith Communities.” In accordance with the theme, the workshops were set up to focus on the connections between faith, sexuality, and gender identity. Some of the workshops include: Trans Activism on Campus, HIV Risk 101, Queering the Bible, a Union in Wait, Queer Muslim Liberation, and When Identities Collide: The dissecting of Gender, Race, Sexual and Religious Identities.
Each workshop offered a different perspective in the various areas of queer life. They were all educational and allowed for discussions amongst the participants. Through the workshops the conference achieved its goal of affirming and reflecting all aspects of the identities of GLBT people.
Ending the first day of workshops was the next keynote speaker, Reverend Irene Monroe. Reverend Monroe is a religious columnist and public theologian who spoke on how religious intolerance and fundamentalism plays a role in discrimination for the GLBT community. Following Monroe was Staceyann Chin, a full-time artist, “out” poet, political activist, and off-Broadway performer. Ending the night was S. Bear Bergman who is a one-person performer of “Genderjammer,” which involves religion, body image, gender, and sexuality in a one-hour amalgam by the self-proclaimed “queer theater artist, writer, educator, and instigator.” Bergman hails from Northampton, Mass.
The conference was not all about attending workshops and activism, but rather offered an opportunity to meet people and have a good time. The conference hosted a few parties each night of the weekend, with themes such as the AIDS Festival, the Drenched Dance Party, and “Drag it in, Drag it out,” the Drag King show.
By attending the Unity Conference, the members of Lambda learned more about themselves and even more about the varying facets of the queer communities. Members look forward to attending next year’s Unity Conference for further education and to solidify friendships made at this year’s conference.