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Students, Staff Take Steps to Increase LGBTQ Visibility

Laverne Cox
The group met Laverne Cox, opening speaker and actress on the hit Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black.”

Assistant Dean of Students Becca Taylor and Director of Multicultural Affairs Tae-Sun Kim led a group of eight students to Houston, Texas, this month for "The 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change."

"There is a community of Davidson students that are hungry to learn more about the scope and depth of issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgendered people, especially beyond their individual and campus experience," said Kim.

Taylor and Kim saw the conference as a unique and powerful way for LGBTQ student leaders to get exposure to the world of queer activism–not only in higher education, but also as it relates to racial justice, health care, immigration reform, homelessness, violence against transgender people, and activism in the South and rural United States.

Every student who applied was accepted–three sophomores and five seniors from the GSA, YANASH and the LGBTQ Caucus ultimately attended.

In the weeks leading up to the conference the group met to establish goals for the betterment of the Davidson community. They aimed to network with other schools, engage students on campus through social media, and return with both long-term strategic ideas and ideas that could be implemented in the near-term.

Progress Made, Challenges Ahead

The conference kicked off with a speech by Laverne Cox, a transgender woman and famous actress who stars in the series "Orange is the New Black." Kim said that Cox provided eye-opening statistics and stories about transgender women in relation to violence, unemployment and exploitation.

Rea Carey
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, gave the Friday plenary. (Photo from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Facebook)

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, spoke about the LGBTQ equality movement for Friday's plenary session.

"There's a tendency to describe the last two years as the greatest in the movement because of our progress with marriage equality and the repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' but in reality they have also been the most violent years," said Taylor. "Rea emphasized how it's important to find a balance between celebrating these victories and not losing sight of the fact that we have a long way to go on less visible rights."

In addition to four plenary sessions, the program included more than 350 workshops and skill-building sessions. The Davidson group split up to attend as many sessions as possible, learning about topics ranging from fundraising to transgender inclusion on college campuses.

Taylor attended a session on intimate partner violence, which informed Title IX work she's doing on campus. "At Davidson, we define sexual misconduct by our own standards rather than the gender-limiting North Carolina state definition of rape. Anyone can be a victim," she said. "The added layer of silence and lack of terminology around sexual violence in the LGBTQ community makes it particularly challenging."

Natalie Williford '14, who will begin a career in education next year, gained insight on the role of being a queer educator in the classroom and the ways to create an inclusive classroom environment. "It was nice to get concrete materials and resources to help address significant issues like bullying, suicides and drop-out rates rather than solely discuss the issues," she said.

With more than 3,500 people and nearly 75 universities represented, the conference also provided the opportunity for Davidson to network with other schools and organizations. Fifteen schools from North Carolina decided to form their own sub-consortium.

Since returning, Taylor and Kim have held individual and group debriefings with the students. Each person is responsible for taking what they learned from one or two workshops and developing a way to implement it on campus. Williford has been working with several staff members, coaches and student-athletes to develop specialized Safe Space training to address issues faced by LGBTQ athletes.

"My freshman year experience of the LGBTQ community was minimal and polarizing," said Williford. "However, members have really made it a point to break down stereotypes this year, and I've noticed more people coming out now than ever before. I think it's a direct result of all of the programming Becca is doing to encourage visibility."