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Inclusivity means standing up for what’s right

February 22, 2017

Hello, UW-River Falls. My name is Darren Spence and I am currently the Inclusivity Senator for the 79th Session of the UWRF Student Government Association.

I was able to attend the Midwest Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC) held Feb. 17-19 in Chicago, Illinois. The MBLGTACC consisted of several hundred students from universities and colleges from 13 states including Wisconsin. This year the theme was United in Solidarity, and many of the issues and workshops dealt with some of the recent controversial political subjects including transgender rights, ungendering bathrooms and conversion therapy.

During my two days at this conference, I attended six of the eight workshop sessions held, which I found to be very informative and very relevant given many members of our student body fall into such categories.

The first workshop dealt with the use of faith in support or denial of LGBT rights. Several students who were at this workshop grew up in very religious or conservative households or struggled for many years with coming out and the view or backlash that they would have received from others. The general consensus many came to was that faith and religion do not have to be a source of denial for those who are LGBT. While there are some religious views that may seem to be counterproductive to LGBT rights, it is really open to interpretation and no one should use one’s faith to denounce another for who they love or how they dress.

I then attended a student panel which consisted of four students from UW-La Crosse, UW-Superior, University of Minnesota Morris and Illinois State. The main theme that was said here was to encourage students to have more conversations with transgender people or who are nonwhite LGBT. We have several students here at UWRF who are in those categories and I would encourage my fellow students to reach out to them or to get involved with the GSA here on campus.

The student from University of Minnesota Morris then encouraged everyone to have conversations with those who you disagree with and not to be afraid to call a person out if you think they are wrong. You should stand up for your beliefs but never promote or encourage violence or infringing on their rights. Also, one needs to be aware of their social standing and privileges. Don’t try to deny it or ignore it when presented with it. Encourage others to acknowledge it as well and continue to work to establish a fair and equal society.

The last workshop I attended was a discussion and history of conversion therapy given by a recipient and survivor of this practice named Sam Brinton who is a graduate of MIT and was a nuclear engineer in the Obama Administration. The details he described of this practice are extremely graphic and I would not think it appropriate to include them in this column, but I strongly encourage anyone reading this to read any accounts of this practice by other survivors, or even Brinton’s own words which, in all honesty, is torture by all standards and is currently legal in over 40 states including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Those who wish to read up on this practice or help advocate for its ending should go to 50Bills50States.org.

The final two events I attended were keynote speeches by AIDS survivor and activist Peter Staley and the undocumented transgender and immigration activist Jennicet Gutierrez. Both Staley and Gutierrez had different themes in their respective speeches but the common theme was the call for involvement and to not sit idle with so much negativity in the world.

Like the 1980s AIDS crisis, we are living in a world where people in power use fear and mistrust to push us in one direction or another. If we allow that and give in, we are no better than those who have committed extremely brutal acts throughout humanity’s history. While we all have our own lives and interests, we should just remember to not lose touch with those different than us and embrace that.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on who to have for lunch.” I challenge everyone reading this to not be lambs but wolves and fight for those who are weak and keep those in power in check, whether it’s Democrat or Republican or other, and I encourage all my fellow Falcons to join one of the political groups here on campus.

I would also encourage everyone to remember this slogan that was uttered several times during the MBLGTACC: “My existence is resistance.” And again, get involved on campus in any way you can. Together we can make this campus more inclusive and not only keep it great, but make it greater and greater again.

If anyone reading this has any questions or concerns regarding my attendance of this conference, I would encourage you all to contact me at darren.spence@my.uwrf.edu and I will be more than happy to discuss them. Thank you.