Forty-eight hours, 97 breakout sessions and a count just less than 1,000 attendees from 15 states and Canada.
College students and presenters migrated to Ames from all over the Midwest Friday through Sunday for the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender and Ally College Conference. Although the issue of legalizing gay marriage has been heavily covered in the news recently, participants said it was just one part of the weekend’s discussions.
“A big problem is people just aren’t educated on queer issues,” said Dustin Wagner, a pre-nursing major at the University of Iowa who attended the conference.
The weekend’s theme was “Speak Up! Speak Out!” which organizers said meant encouraging non-heterosexuals and their allies to make sure others were aware of challenges facing gays and lesbians.
“I think one thing that actually did change [as a result of the weekend] in people’s minds was [when] we talked about community involvement,” said Scott Reichmann, co-chairman of the conference’s planning committee. “There was an incredible amount of energy.”
Reichmann said he didn’t notice major differences between gay issues the ISU community deals with compared to those mentioned by visitors from other campuses.
“It’s fair to say those issues are always present,” he said. “The specific way that they manifest themselves may be a little different.”
Rich Eychaner of Des Moines, who made a presentation and represented the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force, said he thinks discrimination against gays is common in Iowa and in the United States, making the theme all the more appropriate.
“There is obviously is a lot of assault and antagonism,” he said. “There are obviously a lot of people trying to keep gay youth from speaking.”
Eychaner said he thinks gay marriage will eventually become popularly accepted, although he said the prospect of a constitutional amendment prohibiting it is something the gay community needs to advocate against.
“The majority will turn in favor of encouraging long-term relationships from people from all kinds of walks,” he said, pointing out that the American public once favored employment discrimination against gays.
Wagner said speakers encouraged participants to be politically active.
“[They] told us it was very important for us to vote and to talk to our legislators,” he said.
An amendment to the Constitution, he said, would mark “the first time that discrimination will be added into the Constitution.”
Troy Nesbitt, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church, 56829 U.S. Highway 30, said he disagreed.
“I’m always opposed to any legislation that would be clearly against what I believe to be God’s intended purpose and design for relationships,” he said. “My position on the issue is a biblical position.”
Nesbitt, whose church also contains the college Christian ministry The Salt Company, said he thought the ISU conference represented an attempt to create a “discriminatory category” for its constituents that didn’t really exist.
“From my perspective, I’m always a bit disappointed when the gay and lesbian community encourages pride in something I would consider unhealthy,” he said.
Wagner said the issue of gay marriage will likely continue to inspire debate for some time.
“It is a huge deal that is affecting the queer community,” he said.