“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” ~ African Proverb
Huge shout out to our keynotes, Fabian Romero and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha; all the volunteers; all the workshop presenters; the ASL interpreters; the Queer Resource Center staff; local restaurants, Thai Cottage, Basha’s, and Chipotle for feeding us, and Starbucks, whose donations kept us awake; all the folks who made monetary donations to off-set registration fees for QTPOC conference attendees; the QSOCC Planning Committee; and this year’s brilliant QSOCC Intern, Tally Payne.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your hard work and dedication to the holistic success of the 5th annual Queer Students of Color Conference! We did it! ❤
Conference organizing is hard. Like, super duper hard. But don’t get it twisted – as a Black queer femme disabled person I rocked it – and made a conference happen on a 20 hour per week position, with a small budget. But I didn’t do it alone. There was a collection of PSU student-volunteers that I cobbled together who served as the Queer Students of Color Conference (QSOCC) Planning Committee, in addition to the QSOC Intern. Collaborating with a group of people to put on a conference is never easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve committed myself to thus far in my organizing career. It’s hard to not let the internal struggles effect the external work that is intended for the community. Our Planning Committee meetings would oscillate between discussions of how anti-Blackness is perpetuated by non-Black POC, to how to make the conference as safe and accessible as possible, to how we can include a local youth contingent. These three things were probably the most challenging to plan around, and ultimately, had the most rewarding outcomes.
With anti-Blackness and anti-Black racism as the plague that besieges the QTPOC community as a whole; it’s no wonder this came up as a contentious topic among this year’s conference organizers. The short version of what happened is that in an attempt to create Latin@ programming, we encountered the erasure and dismissal of Afro Latin@s. After much discussion, it was decided that the proposed event could not go forward without the inclusion of Afro Latin@s; because of some hesitation on the part of committee members to make this necessary change, we did not proceed with the event. Ultimately, this was a learning experience for many, if not all, of the Planning Committee members. Anti-Blackness cannot be undone within the six-month time frame we had to plan the conference. My only hope is that people remember this learning moment and that each of us finds it within ourselves to do better next time.
Accessibility & Safe(r) Space
The Planning Committee was ready and willing to follow my lead in making QSOCC a safe(r) space by making it a sober space. In other words, we urged all conference attendees to not engage in any recreational substance use or bring any recreational substances with them during the duration of the time they were at QSOCC. Setting this standard did two things: first, it provides a safe(r) space for sober people who may be activated by the presence of drugs, alcohol, or other substances; second, it makes room for QTPOC youth attendance at all QSOCC programming. Many QTPOC have trauma around substance use. Simultaneously, there are people who use substances to self-medicate and cope with trauma and complications of being a QTPOC in our toxic world. While holding this complexity, it was important to us to try and create a space that included as many people as we could.
The Planning Committee prioritized youth representation and involvement in this year’s QSOCC programming. This conversation started in tandem with the safe(r) space discussions. We began to recognize that by adjusting the typical conference experience to be youth inclusive, we would also be widening the pool of potential QSOCC participants. There were many youth who attended QSOCC this year; almost exclusively all of them came from the Gresham High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Their workshop, “Queer Times at Gresham High: Bodies & Spaces,” was one of my most popular and impactful workshops that weekend! Since the Planning Committee was responsible for outreach, we could’ve done a better job recruiting more high school GSAs, and SMYRC youth to participate in QSOCC programming, submit workshop proposals, and offer input on the planning processes. My hope is that future QSOCC coordinators continue to make an effort in building intergenerational relationships with Portland metro area youth.
Upon further reflection there’s a couple access related things that stick out in my mind as they could’ve been more conducive to the overall experience of the sick and disabled QTPOCs at the conference. Many people are scent-sensitive and/or have allergies to chemicals/chemical-based scents. We put out a request that people attending QSOCC do so without wearing/using scented products. What we should’ve done was send this Fragrance Free post, written by Leah, to all of our social media, and had a talk with each of the volunteers that showed up heavily scented after being specifically asked not to do this. There were supposed to be scent-free hand soap dispensers in the bathrooms. It was on our shopping list and the ball got dropped. I’d like to suggest that next year the Planning Committee put together both an Access Team and a Safety Team (maybe combine them?). This year, we had a day-of Access Team; people who made sure that all rooms were ADA compliant and that anyone who pre-requested accommodations for any of the breakout sessions had their needs met. I believe this is a good starting place. To my knowledge, we haven’t ever had a Safety or Access team at QSOCC. Hopefully, we’ll continue to improve upon this model.
As a response to experiences of years past, we had an Ally Track at this year’s conference. The truth is – we’ve had so many instances of (un)intentional racism from white “allies” who attend QSOCC that we thought we’d give folks a chance to discuss their white privilege and internalized racism with other white people, instead of subjecting QTPOC to their messy process. 2015 was the first year we tried this. I took the lead on recruiting race traitors with strong facilitation skills; white people who could lead a free-flowing discussion and whom I could call on in case one of their cousins was acting a fool. It was a nice, albeit irregular, break from us doing a majority of the emotional labor with people who come to QSOCC without having learned some of “the basics.” I wouldn’t change much about the Ally Track, but I would add a cis “ally” session; we need more dedicated space during the conference to work out our transmisogyny and transantagonism. This was an oversight on my part. And if we’re going to create the type of world we want then we’re going to have to do the work.
*Why are the words “ally” and “allies” in quotes? Read more here!
Personal Take Aways
I’ve learned so much throughout the process of conference organizing and witnessing the event unfold over two days back in April 2015. One of the most important points I hold among the many take aways was a topic brought up by both of the keynotes. I don’t think they planned this, but Leah and Fabian both talked about the necessity to reject the scarcity model.
“I scoop abundance from abundance, and more abundance remains.” ~ Roslyn Farrington
Currently, I’m thinking about how to form this into the theme for next year’s conference. What kind of world could we create if we lived and operated from abundance?