ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Washington University in St. Louis hosted the second Midwest Queer Indigenous and People Of Color (QIPOC) Conference, April 8-10, 2016. The annual gathering was billed as an “intersectional movement for racial, sexual, and gender justice" and composed of key note speakers, including Holiday Simmons and La Loba Loca, workshops, caucuses, panels, and a plethora of resources for attendees.

The QIPOC conference was brought to the Danforth Campus at Seigle Hall by a group of students who attended the 2015 conference at the University of Minnesota. Co-chairs, Jae Shepherd and Em Alves, were a part of that group.

"We were all so excited and then thought, should we host it?" Alves recalled.

"It was our first time being in a space that was so healing and comfortable," said Shepherd.

The group soon filled out the paper work and got the bid to host this year’s conference.

“I’m excited about being a facilitator, not in the audience,” said Shepherd just prior to the conference. “I look forward to hosting, as well as our key note speakers, and just connecting to people.”

Alves hopes that the conference will bring people together to escape the black and white binary within the community. To help perpetuate this idea of escaping the binary of black/white, boy/girl, gay/straight, and any other oppressive role, the facilities were equipped with gender non-specific restrooms. Each event also was a step towards what key note, Holiday Simmons, referred to as “sustainable collective liberation.”

Simmons stressed that, in addition to fully inclusive movements and dismantling systems of oppression, the community needs to be taking care of themselves and each other while making a model of what should be. This supportive theme resonated throughout the conference, from the snaps and claps in agreement, to the uplifting and respectful spaces in each workshop.

When Simmons gave the floor to members of the audience, those who spoke expressed that the current civil rights movement is for white, privileged males in their 20s and 30s - and that the straight line structure of equality attempted by the current movement does a poor job of acknowledging difference, creating an open space, and opening accessibility. Conference attendees believe that this kind of event can be a start toward improving those things and achieving equality.

The need for actual equality while recognizing difference, as opposed to superiority and a single, hegemonic state was also a recurring theme.

Each workshop focused on a specific topic such as citizenship, advocacy, or specific gender or sexual identifications. Attendees then took these topics and discussed how they relate and work with being queer and not white at the same time.

More than just a lecture, however, some of the workshops were more of a directed forum, creating a safe and open environment for those within the workshop.

Dr. Lex Brown-James was one of the workshop leaders that wanted to avoid a lecture by using an interactive approach with her presentation of “Getting to Orgasm.” This particular seminar focused on taking control of your own orgasm as well as how people of color are often erased while teaching and learning about sex. Brown-James is a sexologist and a marriage and family counselor who works with everybody from people with depression to sexually unhappy couples.

“Not all conferences are catered to people of color,” said planning committee member Lady Ashley Gregory. “I’m happy we can bring this safer space to the region.”

The planning committee's goal was to bring a safe and open space for people who are often ignored or forgotten within the community. According to organizers, the space allowed people to learn, connect, and talk about issues in a productive way.

While turnout for this year's QIPOC conference was impressive with more than 130 people pre-registering and even more showing up each day of the event, the planning committee is hoping to be able to pass the conference on to a different Midwest location next year. Organizers would like to see the conference held in various locations throughout the Midwest to give others an opportunity to create the same successful space they were able to this past weekend.

Anyone interested in hosting the QIPOC conference in the future or to find out more about the opportunity can contact the group at qtpocstl "at" or through the group’s Facebook page.





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