Disclaimer: Roze Brooks and Caleb-Michael Files are U-News Staff members.Mal Hartigan and Kynslie Otte are former U-New staff members.
The Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC) is the nation’s largest annual LGBTA college conference. Last week, 20 UMKC students and faculty traveled to Lansing, Mich. along with representatives from Mizzou and the Kansas City Art Institute, to attend MBLGTACC 2013.
The conference will require a much shorter trip for UMKC students to attend next year. The 2,000-plus person conference will be hosted in Kansas City due to the successful hosting bid that UMKC students presented at 2012 MBLGTACC in Iowa.
“This conference means a lot to UMKC for several reasons,” said Amanda Hinman, UMKC student and the conference’s 2014 Director of Programming. “Newsweek rated UMKC the 5th most gay-friendly campus in America. We are out to prove that it is true.”
MBLGTACC 2014 will be hosted at the Kansas City Downtown Marriott Hotel and Convention Center Feb. 7-9. It will be the 22nd annual conference.
The MBLGTACC Planning Coalition is comprised entirely of students, led by Roze Brooks, Creative Content and Programming chair, and Bradley Leach, Business Operations chair. Brent Husher, Pride Alliance faculty advisor and coordinator of UMKC’s virtual library, serves as an adviser for the Planning Coalition.
Conceived in 1991, the conference was first hosted in Ames, Ia. by Iowa State University and Drake University in 1993. It has been held every year since in various Midwestern states – Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin – but 2014 will be the first time this conference will be in Missouri.
Its creation was partially a reaction to coastal preferences in LGBTA visibility – that is, “the focus on New York or San Francisco, neglecting all the queer activists working in the Midwest or the south,” explained Tom Neal, a gay student activist from Texas who gave the 1994 MBGLTACC keynote address.
“This conference is ultimately about creating a safe space for college students who identify or are trying to understand what their identity is,” Brooks said.” Whether attendees are out and proud, or still exploring their identity, this is the best place to figure out who you are.”
While it is a Midwest conference and can only be hosted by schools in the 13-state Midwest region, students from regions outside the Midwest annually attend the conference.
A roll call of states present at 2013’s conference revealed attendees from as far away as Hawaii.
Since their bid was accepted in 2012, the seven UMKC students who make up the Planning Coalition Executive Board have been planning the 2014 conference in Kansas City, which will likely be the largest MBLGTACC conference in the nation’s history.
“If we reach over 3,000 registrations, from what I recall, it will be the largest LGBTA conference in the nation’s history,” said Kynslie Otte, 2014 Assistant Director of Operations.
Currently, the annual Creating Change conference is the largest LGBTA conference, bringing in 3,400 attendees in 2013. MBLGTACC is trailing this number, but still ranks as the largest LGBTA college conference.
The theme for 2014’s conference intertwines Kansas City’s cultural history and reflects LGBT community progress.
“The theme is ‘Jazzin’ it Up,’” Hinman said. “We want to celebrate all the accomplishments that the gay community has made. There is still a long way to go, but we want our attendees to be proud of what they have done and of who they are as a group.”
The theme also stems from Kansas City’s rich jazz culture. The speakers and entertainment for the event will be focused on this overall theme. Michigan State University, the host school of 2013’s conference, presented the theme Mosaic: Putting the Pieces Together. Through their preliminary speakers and entertainment, such as journalist LZ Granderson, ally and rubgy player Ben Cohen and openly gay ex-Mormon Justin Utley, the general goal was to create a feeling of unity.
The UMKC students planning the event are responsible for all the logistics, from fundraising to scheduling keynote speakers to planning educational workshops. All the funds needed to put on the conference will be retrieved through outreach to both the community and bigger corporations on behalf of the board and the director of fundraising. .
“I’d probably say it takes an average of $160,000, depending on how lavish we want the conference to be and what speakers we get,” said Mal Hartigan, 2014 Director of Marketing and Public Relations.
MBLGTACC 2013 set a high precedent this year, bringing in more than 2,100 registrants. This is the highest attendance in the conference’s history and UMKC anticipates the momentum of this year to bring even more attendees in 2014.
Among strategic talk of all the intricate planning that lies ahead for them, the Executive Board showed tremendous excitement about the conference coming to Kansas City.
“First, this is the farthest south the conference has been held,” Leach said. “This will allow students from across the nation to experience all that Kansas City and UMKC have to offer. This is also an opportunity for UMKC to show the inclusiveness that UMKC has to offer.”
The activities offered at Michigan’s conference merited a 94-page program full of offered activities: 98 educational workshops, state caucus meetings, committee meetings, spoken word poetry, musical performances, film events, a career and exhibitor fair and speeches.
“There was a very diverse range of workshops. The presentations at this [Michigan] conference were mostly tailored towards gay men and queer people,” Hinman said.
“For 2014, we are hoping to diversify the programming even more and make it really tailored to the audience we have. We want everyone to feel included in the workshops.”
The 2014 planning coalition has several speakers and entertainment in mind, striving to feature bigger local names such as out country singer Chely Wright and Missouri State Senator Jolie Justus (D-Farmington).
Brooks says something new about the 2014 conference will be the added focus on programming for graduate students and faculty and staff types. This will range from symposiums and research panels to bringing in academia-focused presenters.
“The conference’s purpose is mostly to provide education for members of the LGBT community about the community, and provide information to better become more united as a community,” Hartigan said. “We’re more positively united as a community when we understand each other better. It’s a way to empower, inspire and educate LGBT students. It’s so neat.”
For more information on MBLGTACC 2014, visit mblgtacc2014.org.