From April 17-18 in Lexington, Kentucky, the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter held their second annual "Moving Forward" conference for youth, educators, and families. As a GLSEN Student Ambassador from Louisville, KY, I had been in contact and working to promote this year's conference with Bluegrass' chair, Zoey Peach, and other members of the planning committee. In this effort, I designed posters and aided in social media outreach. In addition, I got the opportunity to present my own research on LGBT+ art history, tips for arts educators on LGBT+ inclusivity, and my own experiences as a transgender artist in a workshop called "Art & Identity."
I arrived in Lexington to attend the conference on the evening of April 17, as I had attended school earlier that day to put on Day of Silence. Upon my arrival, I was greeted warmly and welcomed into discussions by other youth and adults there from all over the region. It was a great relief to finally speak after the Day of Silence, as well as make new friends. Later that evening, "Breaking the Silence" activities were held with raffles, an open mic session, and a drag show.
The next morning of the conference, I was scheduled to put on my own workshop, "Art & Identity." As I prepared for this, other workshops also went underway for attendees, including one titled "Spirituality" and another called "An Even Deeper Closet" on interpersonal violence and retaining safe relationships. The mission of Moving Forward, to empower and connect LGBT+ youth, was in full effect for my conference room once I finished my "Art & Identity" lecture on topics of LGBT+ symbolism, art history, and identity in art.
After passing out paper and supplies, attendees young and old began to draft their own stories through imagery (and some through poetry!). Shortly after, the floor was open to anyone in sharing their identities as expressed through art. One mother drew and discussed her relationship with her transgender son, one attendee drew all of her interests with her as the centerpiece, and another drew a comic of themselves and their shadow as symbolism. In giving these lectures, I find that the stories shared and creative outlets inspired are just as relevant as each artist I add to my timeline in updating my LGBT+ art history research.
Following my workshop was a lecture on intersectionality and contributing to mindfulness of all identities a person may have, called "Hear Our Truths: What You May Not Know About Your Besties, Brothers, Babies, or Even Your Boo." Attendees got to participate in "fill in the blank" poetry in the style of Nikki Giovanni's "Paint Me Like I Am" and storytelling along with other attendees to share our many intersectional perspectives, lessons, and journeys.
The rest of the day included more workshops, a lunch graciously provided by GLSEN Bluegrass and a lecture by Fairness Campaign's executive director, Chris Hartman. The Fairness Campaign is an organization based in Louisville, working and lobbying for LGBT+ equality in the state. Chris discussed the rise and downfall of the recent anti-transgender bathroom bill, the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act," and the current climate of Kentucky in regards to fairness laws, discrimination, and school climate issues for LGBT+ students. And with that, attendees went home with new knowledge and awareness of the inner workings of policy-making in our state.
While smaller than conferences I had attended in the past in Louisville and Cincinnati, as the Bluegrass chapter is still relatively new and growing, Moving Forward's mission of connecting and empowering LGBT+ youth was fulfilled in April 2015 as I met others, listened to stories , and got to share some of my own stories through presenting. As the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter keeps spreading initiatives to the rest of the state, I know that the Moving Forward conference will continue and grow. Hope to see you there next year in Lexington!
Casey Hoke is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and volunteer with GLSEN Bluegrass.