Attempting to pronounce the acronym for the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference phonetically makes you sound like you’re trying to summon an archaic deity of some sort. (Our best attempt: “Em-bleg-tac.”)
But the acronym for the conference is as big as the event itself — it’s the largest college LGBTA conference in the country, with an average attendance of 1,700.
The annual conference started in 1993 and is hosted by a different college in the Midwest each year. This year, students at Michigan State University are carrying the torch and striving to make this the biggest conference yet.
The event, which is open to all college students, will be at the Lansing Center Friday through Sunday. Online registration costs $65 and at-the-door tickets are $75.
Attendees will have nearly 100 workshops to choose from — including some on gender and sexual identity in the legal profession; counseling students on LGBT-related issues; and the “Campus Pride Index” for LGBT-friendly campuses — as well as entertainment and speaking events.
Read on to find out more about the keynote speakers, things to do and eat while you’re in town and a profile of prominent, plus-size drag queen Latrice Royale, who performs at Spiral on Saturday.
Meet the Speakers
LZ Granderson: Bridging sports, politics and the LGBT community
By DYLAN SOWLE
CNN and ESPN contributing writer LZ Granderson returns to his home state to deliver a keynote speech at this week’s MBLGTACC, a return to the conference after speaking there in 2009. He’s fresh off of covering the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
What’s a sports writer doing at the largest LGBT conference in the U.S., you ask? From working on SportsCenter, to covering politics in his CNN column, to giving a TED talk last year called “The myth of the gay agenda,” Granderson’s career spans a broad spectrum. He sees the varying topics of his career and life as not so much different, but as parts of one larger picture.
“I don't see sports and social issues as separate. Social issues dictate who gets to become an athlete and who doesn’t. Or who gets to become a coach and who doesn’t. So much of it bleeds side to side,” he said.
Granderson’s journalism isn’t separate from his involvement in the LGBT community. The 40-year-old Detroit native was named the 2011 Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and the winner of the GLAAD award for online journalism in 2009.
Through his speeches and opinion columns, Granderson — who is openly gay — has gained a platform for making his voice heard.
“The more that people are exposed to LGBT people, the less opposed they are to letting them have the same rights as everyone else,” he said. “More than parades and policies, what has managed to change people's minds the most is simply meeting LGBT people.”
In his speech, Granderson said he will draw on material from his TED talk, a humorous 18-minute speech on the absurdity of the idea of a certain gay lifestyle. He’ll also focus on what to expect from the next four years with the Obama administration and how to gain acceptance and increased rights for LGBT citizens.
Following the conference, Granderson has another busy month ahead. He’ll speak at four different schools before visiting the White House for a series of briefings. Then he’ll cover the NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston.
But, Granderson said, none of these are as important as volunteering at his son’s upcoming school dance.
Emi Koyama: All inclusive
By MARISOL DORANTES
“Survivor,” “Asian,” “dyke” — these are all words that Emi Koyama uses to describe herself.
Also a self-described “multi-issue social justice activist/writer/rogue intellectual,” Koyama is not afraid to speak her thoughts, no matter how taboo and unorthodox they may seem.
Koyama is one of four keynote speakers at this year’s MBLGTAC conference in Lansing. She writes and speaks about feminism, intersex and disability issues and sexual and domestic violence, among others.
“I’m not exactly sure what I will be talking about yet,” she said of her visit to Lansing this week. “I am always researching new things … I like to shake things up a bit, you know?”
Although Koyama researches and writes about many different topics, they all revolve around the idea of acceptance. One of Koyama’s focal points is stigmatization and victim blaming.
Koyama began volunteering in homeless shelters in the 1990s in Portland, Ore., where she still lives. She is the founder and director of the Portland-based Intersex Initiative, an advocacy organization for those born with conditions when genetics and genitals don’t align under “standard” definitions of sex. Her personal website, eminism.org, claims: “Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.”
While working in homeless shelters, she observed that the rules to stay there were based on a singular set of morals and values: no drugs or alcohol. Koyama uses this example to develop her stance on human coping through hardships, noting it is not a sufficient approach.
“There is a very linear way of thinking when it comes to how someone should or shouldn’t deal with trauma. If you aren’t positive, then something is wrong with you,” she said. Koyama is trying to change the way people see and marginalize victims who do not conform to what is accepted as the “appropriate” way to grieve.
Koyama does not speak in allegories, but she manages to be just as engaging because her thoughts stem from personal experiences, including her work as a volunteer at rape crisis centers and literature that has influenced her beliefs. Koyama is inspired by literary figures Gloria Anzaldúa, author of “Borderlands/ La Frontera,” and Michiyo Fukaya, a Japanese-American lesbian and poet.
Koyama’s work, while based on feminism and sexual identity, is at its core about all-inclusive principles.
“I write to create pressure to change things,” she said, “whether it’s in politics or the emergency room, where sometimes people don’t get help if they are there for reasons outside what is socially acceptable.”
Robyn Ochs: Advocate, teacher, author
By DYLAN SOWLE
Educator/activist Robyn Ochs is one of the foremost speakers on LGBT issues. She’s been a featured presenter and speaker at past MBLGTACC conferences, and is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage.
"We have marriage equality in Massachusetts now, so mission successful,” she said. “And after that, we said to ourselves, 'Are we done?' And of course, we aren't done. We'll keep working."
Ochs has taught courses on LGBT history and politics, and calls the MBLGTACC event “a highlight of my year.” She can attest to the enthusiasm and power of the event.
“There's something so exciting about watching people who have felt isolated be in a space with 1,500 actively engaged people,” Ochs said. “It's especially important for students from smaller towns, or areas with little support from their communities. They can expect, perhaps for the first time, to feel the power of community.”
In addition to her speaking experience, Ochs is the co-founder of Harvard University's LGBT Faculty and Staff Group, and its Trans Task Force. She is the editor of “Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World (2005, 2009),” an international anthology with authors from 42 countries. She also wrote “The Bisexual Resource Guide” and is the editor of “Bi Women,” a quarterly publication.
Ben Cohen: Athlete working to end bullying
By JUSTIN ANDERSON
England Rugby World Cup champion Ben Cohen retired from the game in 2011 to focus his attention on his project, the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which heightens awareness on homophobic bullying and raises funds to support those working to stop it. He’s also one of the first straight athletes to focus on LGBT issues. His philanthropic work has reached millions through his public speaking events and his social media contacts.
Cohen has done a lot with the StandUp Foundation to fight for the rights of the LGBT community and to end homophobia in sports. The StandUp Foundation is supported by donations from individuals and with the help of corporations and organizations such as Nike, Microsoft and the Human Rights Campaign.
Cohen’s message cuts close to home — his father was fatally wounded defending a man who was being attacked at a nightclub. His speaking engagements focus on the importance of character, having respect for yourself and others and working for equal rights for people of all backgrounds.
Cohen couldn’t be reached for comment.
A gay icon in Europe, Cohen has appeared on the covers of LGBT-friendly magazines Attitude, Compete and Out.