The Kansas State LGBT Resource Center sponsored the first in-person Kansas LGBTQ+ Leadership Conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event, held at the Student Union and Morrison Family Multicultural Student Center on April 22, included an art show, nine sessions over three blocks and a keynote speaker.
Michael Larson, graduate student in drama therapy, helped organize the event, reaching out to schools and community organizations across Kansas.
“Finding all the middle schools and high schools in the state of Kansas was our first step and getting information out through emails and phone calls as well as social media graphics posting,” Larson said.
Dr. Tori Gleason, graduate student in the master of public health program at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, gave her keynote presentation halfway through the event. She talked about her struggles growing up, being outed and problems the LGBTQ community faces with health care and laws surrounding it.
An exhibition titled “Centering Queer Voices” featured artwork from LGBTQ students, community members and professionals. Lori Cruz, survivor intake specialist for the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education at K-State, had their unnamed piece featured.
“I was in therapy with an art therapist, and they recommended me doing a piece about having support,” Cruz said. “To me, that meant community.”
Cruz attended the conference alongside their artwork. They said their highlights of the event included the keynote speaker and a presentation titled “I Am Very Tired of Cisnormativity” by Sam Sharpe, graduate student in biology and a member of the Gender Collective.
“Cisnormativity is the assumption that all humans are cis-gendered,” Sharpe said during their presentation. “The thing I am tired of is not cis-gendered people, but the assumption that everyone is cisgender and the implications of this assumption.”
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During the third block, student leaders of the K-State Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Gender Collective and oSTEM organizations discussed the panelists’ positions on issues centered around the LGBTQ community.
“[The crowd] was asking questions about ‘How can faculty and professors work with students better in creating queer spaces?’ or ‘How do you get queer individuals to come to GSA meetings?'” RJ Salmen, sophomore in personal financial planning, said. “It was just a conversation between us and the 30–40-person crowd that was there.”
Salmen serves in the Student Governing Association as a senator and serves in Gender Collective as an executive board member. They talked about SGA’s new Strategic Oversight Committee and its role in preserving initiatives.
“The committee creates reports and a documentation system where their reports include background information and actions taken by students,” Salmen said. “It has a list of actionable steps that we proposed.”
Salmen said the committee will help get issues passed with the university, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, that otherwise would be forgotten.
“A lot of individuals talked about how the administration outlasts students when it comes to issues because we are usually only here for four years,” Salmen said. “I think that [it’s] a really good solution to combatting the institutional problem of knowledge disappearing.”
The conference concluded with Will Rapp, statewide organizer for GLSEN Kansas, asking for one-word experiences from attendees and sharing a quote from the late poet bell hooks about power.
Cruz said the event benefitted students in the LGBTQ community.
“I think it provides an opportunity for students to see role models of people from the queer community who are successful,” Cruz said. “Growing up, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of role models, so this is an opportunity for that.”
More information about the LGBT Resource Center is available through the organization’s website.