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Berkshire LGBTQIA+ Conference Highlights Culture, Challenges Of Rural Life

On Saturday, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts hosts the sixth annual Live Out Loud Community Conference on its North Adams campus.

Drew Herzig – also of Pittsfield’s Human Rights Commission and its Police Advisory and Review Board – is a planning committee member for the conference.

“It’s free, it’s open to everyone, it’s for the LGBTQ community and allies, and we’d like everybody to come and check it out,” he told WAMC.

This year, the conference highlights the arts and culture contributions the LGBTQ community makes to Berkshire County.

“We’ve got some spoken word and performance word poets from the WordXWord project coming," said Herzig. "[They’re] going to do a panel called ‘Queering the Word.’ We’ve got Jacob’s Pillow being one of our sponsors, and Matthew Cumbie from Dance Exchange and Jacob’s Pillow is going to be doing a movement workshop. We’re going to have a presentation from some of our drag performers.”

The conference alternates year to year between Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and MCLA. Herzig says the usual attendance is around 100.

“The funding is an incredible collaboration," he said. "The Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention contributes money, Berkshire Children and Families, NAMI of Berkshire County, Berkshire Community College, MCLA of course.”

The conference will feature keynote speaker HB Lozito, the executive director of Brattleboro, Vermont-based Green Mountain Crossroads.

“Our work is focused on building connections, community, visibility, and power of rural LGBTQ people,
 they told WAMC. "So we have been primarily working in Vermont and the Southern Vermont area for the last five years, and increasingly work all over New England with folks from throughout the United States.”

One of the issues Lozito works on at GMC is isolation. While it’s a common concern to rural dwellers of any stripe, it can disproportionately and severely hit the LGBTQ community.

“We know that nationally, transgendered people attempt suicide at a rate of 41 percent which is dramatically higher than the national statistics for cisgendered people," said Lozito. "And so we look at statistics like that and we know we have better health outcomes for people when we’re feeling connected and when we’re in community with each other.”

Access to medical care and mental health care are also high on GMC’s list of concerns for rural LGBTQ communities, as well as access to transportation.

“And then we know that LGBTQ people are members of every single community, so a lot of the issues that our folks are facing are the same as people in any rural community are facing – access to opioids and addictions and support for overcoming those challenges, affordable housing, jobs, climate change, racism – we look at and deal with all of these issues because we know that LGBTQ people regardless of if they live in a rural place or not are dealing with these issues,” said Lozito.

Herzig hopes that the conference will serve as a rallying point for the LGBTQ community and the friends, family, and allies that surround it.

“One of the things we wanted to do this year is focus on the positive, the contributions we make, the way we can be our true selves in the face of all this oppression," he told WAMC. "We obviously can never forget the danger we are all in, particularly trans people, particularly trans women of color, but we also have to look at how we are going about our lives, how we are fulfilling ourselves, how we are making a contribution to our community and our society.”

The sixth annual Live Out Loud Community Conference begins Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at MCLA in North Adams, Massachusetts.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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