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Helping Everyone Regardless of Orientation attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference Feb. 15-17 in Wichita, Kansas.

MBLGTACC is America's largest and oldest continuously-held conference for LGBTQ college students, according to the MBLGTACC website, and is hosted by students from a different midwest university each year.

This year’s theme was, “Beyond the rainbow and to the stars.”

According to the MBLGTACC website, “Beyond the rainbow” is a nod to the Wizard of Oz, which most associate with Kansas, and the “to the stars and beyond” comes from the state motto: “Ad Astra per Aspera,” meaning “To the stars through difficulties”.

Moving Beyond the Rainbow suggests seeing connections between diverse identities, according to the MBLGTACC website, as well as fighting the ongoing struggles for justice and equality.

HERO members attended the conference in 2017 and 2018, but this year, more students were able to attend because of grants, an appropriation from Student Senate and fundraising. All five members of the HERO executive board attended as well as five other members.

HERO president, junior Daph Bergren, said they were most excited about meeting bisexual educator and activist Robyn Ochs, one of the featured voices at the conference. Ochs is the editor of Bi Women Quarterly and worked to modify the Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, to include asexual and aromantic identities.

“They say 'Don't meet your heroes,' but that does not apply to Robyn,” Bergren said. “She has this really kind and generous energy that immediately put me at ease. She was truly glad to talk with me, and I am so glad that I got to meet her.”

Ochs led workshops about the Kinsey Scale and biphobia.

“The workshops she led were equally phenomenal,” Bergren said. “Basically, I learned a ton from her, and she is just as kind and wise and generally amazing in person.”

In addition to Ochs, featured voices at the conference included educator and writer Jon Paul Higgins, Trevor Project Head of Advocacy Sam Brinton and University of Kansas Associate Director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs Cody Charles.

The conference hosted three keynote speakers: model, actor and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco; intersex activist, writer and artist Pidgeon Pagonis; and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto Janaya Khan.

Senior Tric Courtaway said DiMarco’s keynote address was particularly memorable to them because of DiMarco’s view on confidence.

“He spoke, or rather signed, to us about how we often worry about how to hide or try to justify parts of ourselves to others,” Courtaway said. “But it often does us more good to look for ways to own these traits and turn them into assets.”

Courtway said DiMarco mostly framed the idea in the context of job interviews, but the principles can apply to everyone’s daily lives.

“He talked about the difference between pleading for tolerance of our identities, and talking up our identities as something that gives us unique experience,” Courtaway said. “People read into the confidence you project, and if you talk about your identity like you believe it's an asset, people will believe you.”

The weekend also included several student-hosted workshops and the annual drag show Saturday night.

Bergren said they attended workshops that addressed issues of gender identity, sexuality, race, discrimination and growing student organizations.

“I learned so much,” Bergren said. “And I can't wait to apply this knowledge on campus and help us grow in our inclusion both within HERO as an organization and on a university-wide level.”

One of the things Courtaway took away from the conference was information about preferred name systems on campus and some suggestions to bring back to Northwest.

“The way students are able to use preferred names on campus already is good, but there are downfalls to it,” Courtaway said. “The way our different databases have to be changed individually and how some trans students feel unable to put their preferred name in the system for fear of their parents finding out.”

Courtaway said they were relieved that there was a gender-neutral restroom, and they didn’t have to use a binary restroom that didn’t align with their non-binary identity.

“Around campus, I do feel a small worry each time I go into a women's restroom, but it's what I do because it's convenient,” Courtaway said. “It was oddly refreshing to walk into a neutral restroom. Nothing bad happened; the restroom signs didn't give me any room for dysphoria. Folks peed and washed their hands and left and minded their own business.”

Sophomore Tyler Bears, who was selected to represent Missouri in a discussion about MBLGTACC 2021, said the diversity of the conference left an impression on him.

“Northwest is great and has a lot of diversity in comparison to the surrounding area, however, it doesn’t hold a candle to the amount that was at MBLGTACC,” Bears said. “I realize that I am comparing oranges to tire irons here, but it is true.”

Bergren said the diversity was a relief; the conference was a place where students didn’t have to worry about who they were, and they could just enjoy the community and company.

“Spaces like these are so important to our community because we live in a world that expects us to be straight and cisgender,” Bergren said. “Having spaces where we are surrounded by people like us allow us a moment to breathe, where we don't have to put on a show; we can just exist as we are for a moment.”

Bergren, Courtaway and Bears said they grew closer to their fellow HERO members through the trip and would recommend the conference to others.

“I would absolutely recommend it to every single queer person, especially those with a desire to do work in activism,” Bergren said. “There are so many topics to learn about, so much community and hope to be found, and so much more.”

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