The Personal is Political at Pride Conference & Rally

Anchorage hosted both the Alaska Pride Conference and the support rally for the National Equality March on Saturday, and queer youth were front and center at both events.

Gays and allies from Fairbanks, Juneau, Homer and the Mat-Su joined the Anchorage LGBTA community at APU for Identity's annual Pride Conference. The morning workshops focused on providing support for young adults in the Gay-Straight Alliances, the new generation of queer and straight youth who are passionate about equal rights and excited about being on the cutting edge of political progress.

Instead of one keynote speaker for the afternoon, the Pride Conference asked a panel of leaders to speak on issues relevant to queer Alaska.

Jackie Buckley spoke on the importance of health care issues like the lack of insurance coverage for LGBT families, limited health information targeted to us, and not being included in either the medical studies or the educational campaigns. She noted outreach to the LGBT community by the local stop smoking campaign as an example of progress. Buckley is a healthcare administrator who volunteers with the Identity Advocacy Team and PFLAG Anchorage.

Rev. Susan Halvor, an ordained Lutheran pastor, said she is often asked, "Where can LGBT Alaskans go to church and be welcomed?" Rev. Halvor encouraged the LGBT community to support general human rights issues in Alaska, along with specific issues of gay equality.

Marsha Buck is an ally from Juneau, a proud PFLAG mom, and the President of Alaskans Together for Equality. She noted that many of our state House legislators are far-right republicans and that it's time to bring the Alaska legislature back into balance by electing more progressives. She encouraged LGBT people to live honestly and open, in a respectful way, and we will get honesty and respect in return. She said that our allies are glad to speak for us, but that we also need to speak for ourselves. And she recommended that we join Alaskans Together for Equality to work for our rights here in Alaska.

Mike Mason is a young man who attended the hearings for the equal rights ordinance this summer and helped organize the rallies on the lawn. He supports activism for minority rights, to achieve legal equality in the city, state and country. He said that religion is not our enemy, ignorance is, and he suggested that we come out because change is made through personal contacts.

Verner Wilson is not the only gay Eskimo. He grew up in a small rural town where he was teased for being gay. There are no resources for LGBT kids in rural Alaska, and no support for LGBT Native Alaskans anywhere. He is concerned about Pebble Mine ruining his home waters of Bristol Bay, about the mayor's veto of the equal rights ordinance, and about the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He also noted that his family accepts him now.

Frank Jenkins (aka Miss MeMe) is the newly-elected Empress of the Imperial Court of All Alaska, the state's first gay organization. He grew up in supportive communities and remembers marching in a candlelight vigil following the murder of Harvey Milk. He said that opposition is often the instigation for progress because it creates a backlash against the prejudice. When people speak out for what is right and are knocked down, they become heroes. Our local allies woke up to the prejudice we faced this summer, and the homophobes will never support us. But how do we motivate those in the middle and get more LGBT youth to stay involved? Leadership development and mentoring for gay and especially trans young adults after they come out, to help them live full lives around work, relationships, spirituality, and politics.

Trevor Storrs is the director of Four A's. He was raised in a small isolated town and even they have evolved on LGBT issues. The actual bigots are a minority, the rest fear us because they don't know us. When they get to know us as individuals, not categories, they can accept us for who we are. Personal contact is important to help them get past their fear.

After the panel members spoke, conference chair Johnathan Jones opened the discussion to the audience. The main issues were how to develop better connections between the LGBT groups and more effective outreach to the mainstream public.

The conference participants also enjoyed a comedy hypnosis show by Jay Her, visited vender and information booths representing LGBT groups, ate lunch and breakfast provided by The Last Frontier Men's Club, and met in person their far-flung email contacts and Facebook friends.

When the conference ended, several of us drove down 36th to the Library and joined the support rally for the National Equality March. Rally organizers Tara and Jon and the other young protestors, gay and straight, had been standing there since 10 a.m., despite the drizzle, and were happy to see us. With that kind of commitment, LGBT equality is inevitable.

No comments:

Copyright © 2008 by Bent Alaska.