Annual LGBTQAI Conference In Pittsfield Saturday
An annual community conference focusing on the LGBTQ community takes place Saturday in Pittsfield.The third annual Live Out Loud Community Conference runs all day Saturday at Berkshire Community College. Since its launch in 2014, the event has drawn more than 100 participants who gather to discuss topics important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people.
“Three years ago out of a youth worker summit members of the community came together and identified the need for youth in Berkshire County needing a space to connect to identify as queer,” said conference chair Amanda Beckwith. “Out of that meeting it fostered greater conversation and a lot of interest from different community partners to bring a yearly conference here to the Berkshires.”
This year’s keynote speaker is Pastor Louis Mitchell of Springfield’s South Congregational Church, who has been active in fairness and equality efforts.
“To have this opportunity to sit and look across the table or room at someone that you may have seen all time and you had no idea that you were a part of one another’s community…that’s an extraordinary gift,” Mitchell said. “That’s what these coming-togethers are about. They’re less about listening to guys like me and more about being able to develop affinity with the people with whom you’ll need to lean into them if things go poorly and you’ll want to celebrate with them when things go well.”
In addition to the youth focus, the conference also features elders who identify as queer or transgender. Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County formed last year to create a social network for LGBTQ seniors. Group chair Ed Sedarbaum will give a presentation at Saturday’s conference. Sedarbaum says part of the reason for launching Rainbow Seniors was to provide social outlets for a generation of LGBTQ individuals who grew up in the 1950s and 60s keeping quiet about their personal lives.
“Imagine yourself sitting around listening to straight people share their reminiscences knowing or fearing that you would be shunned if you started bringing up your own reminiscences…‘Oh I remember that time I went to Provincetown with my first boyfriend,’” said Sedarbaum.
Workshops and panel discussions will cover topics such as creating safe spaces for LGBTQ elders, gender as a social construct and interacting with law enforcement as a transgender or gender non-conforming individual.
“For us to have the most successful conference that we can have it has to be a conference where it is a considered a safe space where anyone is able to fully express themselves without fear of being uncomfortable, unwelcome or unsafe regardless of their sex, gender identity expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, cultural background, religious affiliation, age or ability,” said Beckwith.
The conference comes as lawmakers across the country debate issues such as public accommodations for transgender people. A new law in North Carolina prevents local governments from protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity when they use public accommodations. In response, the governors of New York, Vermont and Connecticut have banned state-funded travel to North Carolina. In Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering a bill that would put in place non-discrimination practices for transgender people in public spaces.
Saturday’s conference runs from 9:15 to 5 o’clock.