“In the Midwest, we had this kind of queer desert, with an absence of activities, an absence of events or positive images or performers. Let’s bring it to us.” - Justin Connor, MBLGCC 1994 planner
In February 1993, students from around the Midwest gathered on the campus of Iowa State University for the first annual Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay College Conference (MBLGCC). Today, we mark the start of the 25th annual Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC). As attendees make their way to Chicago’s historic Navy Pier, we’re reflecting on their inspiring history of building queer success.
Planned and organized entirely by students—a tradition that proudly continues today—the conference emerged in the early 1990s as an answer to the question of how to connect, educate, and empower queer students throughout the region. This came at a time when the continued growth of the mainstream lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights movement—at the time, largely excluding transgender and gender non-conforming folks—was most present and powerful on the east and west coasts, isolating students in the Midwest from national LGBT work by geography, political realities, and access to resources.
Twenty-five years later, MBLGTACC has grown into a queer oasis; a vibrant, diverse gathering of 2000+ college students from around the United States—including Hawai’i. Over 70 workshops, plus keynotes, performances, exhibitor fairs, and state and identity caucuses, all make MBLGTACC a place we can come together to learn, connect, and fuel change. Today, it is the nation’s largest and oldest continuously held LGBTQIA+ college conference, having drawn leading advocates and thought leaders like Angela Davis, Robyn Ochs, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Kate Bornstein, Faisal Alam, LZ Granderson, Jennicet Gutiérrez, and Patrisse Cullors; and entertainers and artists including RuPaul, Todrick Hall, Margaret Cho, J Mase III, Chely Wright, and Loren Cameron.
In the past quarter-century, students have also organized behind and implemented a number of changes to the conference to invite accountability and stay connected to the urgent and emerging issues and activisms in our communities. In discussions over who among us are represented by the name and whom we are centering in the conversation, the call to include transgender in 1997 was answered resoundingly. Over the years, American Sign Language interpreters and all-gender bathrooms have become conference staples, and helpful guidance has been consistently included in conference materials—and regularly evaluated—on inclusive language, zero-tolerance of harassment, sexual responsibility, impact and intent, acknowledging privilege, allergies and scent sensitivities, netiquette, welcoming service animals, and more.
We continue to be inspired by the tremendous legacy of those who have come before us, and by the passion and capacity of those emerging leaders who will carry forward the mantle of MBLGTACC in the years to come. Here’s to all of you.