Our work is rooted in and inspired by the fight and efforts of those before us. Fulfilling this work is an iterative process, taking what has been executed previously and adjusting, adapting, and re-envisioning according to new social situations and changing contexts. Our work requires constant analysis, exposure, and consideration of these situations and contexts in order to both model improved practices as well as contribute to continued efforts and fights for our collective liberation. We do not see ourselves as leaders of liberation, but as contributors and facilitators, participating in, creating and holding space for others to also be exposed to and inspired by new possibilities.
We seek to communicate a set of guiding principles to serve as a framework for our evolving work. With each new iteration of our efforts, we wish to hold these principles as security and stability in navigating the constantly changing and often chaotic conditions in which we are working. This articulation aims to provide context for our approach and lens, and lend others opportunity to vow solidarity, coalition, or even opposition to our efforts.
We credit the first iteration of our framework and guiding principles to the expended labor of liberation contributors before us. Over the course of this drafting process, we have examined and unpacked our interpretations of several existing philosophies. Of particular import are three texts which supported us in determining our role in this work. First, Incite!’s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex provided us with ample questions to reflect on our individual and collective motivations for this work. Second, the Combahee River Collective statement offered a powerful template that was upfront about motives while also honest about limitations to a vision of social change. Third, the Black Lives Matter guiding principles, formulated as a “What We Believe” statement, offers a modern lens on current circumstances and context. These texts, in addition to other readings consumed for our individual self-work, have been vital in conceptualizing and articulating our own principles for how we approach social change work.
Our beginnings lay the foundation for our modern movements. The advent of higher education was not crafted with queer, trans and intersex people, Indigenous peoples, Black & Brown people, disabled folx, and/or women in mind. The crafting of these institutions was based on a hegemonic ideology that served to maintain a patriarchal, nationalist status quo and has been resistant to expansion and inclusion in perpetuity. Any gains for systemically disenfranchised people has prompted aggression-turned-violence from those already affirmed by these institutions. Increases in representation, recognition, and admission into higher education has come as a result of immense strategizing and revolting from those ostracized. No improvements for these groups has come out of the sheer goodness or empathy of administrative powers, all progress has been achieved by fighting for it.
Institutions of higher education have been arenas for liberatory efforts throughout the existence of colleges and universities. Over the course of nearly four centuries, we still do not see ample and abundant possibilities for all people within institutions of higher education. In our modern context, we see clearly that students on college campuses are intricately involved in broader movement work, deeply engaged with the larger issues of the world through a variety of channels. Simultaneously pursuing formal education while also dedicating oneself to causes and movement work is an underestimated and underappreciated form of social and civic engagement. Through this dual engagement, college students advocating for change on their campuses contribute to a ripple that does not solely impact institutions of higher education, but is broadcast and integrated into our society as a whole.
These students are doing the work administrators and practitioners should ideally be held responsible for executing. However, the bureaucratic and corporatized elements of higher education enable the continued erasure and dismissal of and violence against these very students both on and off campus. Therefore, this work is guided and inspired by more than just the efforts of college students and scholarly activists within academia. Students have routinely contributed to filling gaps and addressing the needs of systemically disenfranchised people. Their advocacy and activism on college campuses has resulted in identity-based centers, academic programs, staff positions, officially recognized student organizations, and a great deal more.
Our specific origin is reflective and resultant of the rich and long-standing history of students building their own accommodations and responding to their own needs when institutions refused and failed to do so. It’s important to recognize and name that the history we are left to review is often patchy and incomplete, a result of restrictions regarding whose stories should be documented and archived. Part of our work is to pursue and establish a more complete history, from our origins to now, in an effort to capture the full arc of our organizational narrative. We are grateful for the milestones we have on record and seek to expand on these plot points. For now, this is the timeline we’re able to confirm.
What would later become the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference (MBLGTACC) emerged in the early 1990s as an answer to the question of how to connect, educate, and empower queer students throughout the Midwest region. This came at a time when the continued growth of the mainstream lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights movement—largely underrepresenting transgender, nonbinary, and intersex folx—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.
In 1991, college students at another conference in Des Moines, Iowa came together around this reality and dreamt the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay College Conference (MBLGCC) into existence. They wanted to be part of the solution; to give a voice to queer students in the Midwest; and to make it and MBLGTACC a destination for acclaimed entertainers, activists, and thought leaders. They sought to create an oasis in what Justin Connor (MBLGCC ‘94) says was seen as a “queer desert.” The group came together a year later to lay down the organizing principles and logistical roadmap for a conference of LGBT students, to be held each year at a college or university in the Midwest. The inaugural MBGLCC was held at Iowa State University in February 1993, a collaborative effort between students at Iowa State and Drake University.
Throughout its history, the conference name has evolved. After the first MBGLCC, the identities listed in the conference name were reordered to the “Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay College Conference” for the 1994 conference. In 1997, “transgender” was added and the conference name was expanded to the “Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender College Conference.” In 2001, the name was expanded again to the “Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Ally College Conference”. The most recent change was in late 2018 when the name was changed to the “Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference”. In 2017, MBLGTACC held its 25th gathering. The conference was hosted by the Chicago Coalition of Queer and Allied Students (CCQAS) in Chicago, IL.
In 2007 an Oversight Committee was formed to make a variety of decisions about the conference including choosing host schools. In 2015, the Oversight Committee authorized the creation of a non-profit with a team of dedicated individuals to assist with running MBLGTACC.
The non-profit launched in 2016 as the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.
The 28 year continuation of MBLGTACC, a space that harnesses the energy, earnestness, and urgency of queer and trans Midwest college students, serves as the pulse for our work. Staying attuned to the needs and desires of attendees provides a sampling that reflects major issues impacting all students currently navigating cishetnormative institutions, or colleges and universities ill-equipped to affirm queer and trans people.
An annual conference will not sufficiently alleviate all adversity faced by queer and trans people. However, we do believe this recurring space contributes to planting seeds, mobilizing and motivating students who will have broad influence wherever their post-college pathways take them. Our gathering provides opportunity for others to expand their language and analysis while being exposed to narratives that challenge and contradict one’s pre-existing knowledge and worldviews. As the largest and oldest continuously running conference for queer and trans college students, we often serve as a checkpoint or model for other similarly styled programs in other parts of the country. We are literally putting Midwest queer and trans student advocacy and activism on the map. The longevity of this conference cannot solely be attributed to any logistical or innovative miracle, but speaks more directly to the driving power of need—what happens when there is an assumed deficit or scarcity of resources, opportunities and points of connection for a systemically disenfranchised group. It is no accident that thousands of people return each year to the conference, but we know the conference is not enough.
We have pledged to continue bolstering the magic of MBLGTACC by maintaining the integrity of a conference planned by students for students while also ensuring that no planning team is forced to start from scratch, operate without ample support, or be in financial turmoil by executing the conference. We are crafting how-to style resources, providing tailored and direct advising, offering technology and marketing tools, and other essential components to eliminate previous obstacles students may face when planning a large-scale conference.
Our aim is to capture the skills and knowledge promoted during the conference and amplify it to those who may have limited access to the conference, to college, and/or to queer and trans spaces. Admission to college should not be a prerequisite for being connected with spaces and people that promote healthy navigations of identity-development; educate about sexual, romantic and platonic relationships; provide opportunities for advocacy and activism, and other mechanisms of achieving collective liberation. Through building relationships with our conference partners, we are seeking additional points of access and connection to the main goals and ideas of MBLGTACC that are farther-reaching and long-lasting.
The trajectory of our upcoming work, rooted and credited to the creation of MBLGTACC and the continued movement work of queer and trans college students, is a work in progress. We want to be mindful and intentional in our next steps, aligning ourselves with existing movements and organizations whose general interests match and complement our own. Our guiding principles have been drafted through an intensive process in which our team deeply examined: 1) the nature of our current work, 2) our personal draw and interest in this work and 3) the complexity of doing this work in our current political climate, context and conditions. Through adherence to these guiding principles we hope to gravitate toward new opportunities and coalitions that will amplify and uplift the needs of queer and trans people in the Midwest.
Oppression does not exist strictly between two opposing groups. Recognizing and examining levels of oppression provides a broader and more intricate consideration of how and in what ways people are restricted in their movement, behavior, and actions. Operating from a perspective that considers all levels of oppression enables us to look beyond interpersonal and individual thoughts and actions, and start to question and challenge policies, practices, procedures, and structures. We must look up and down, forward and backward, not just left and right to fully comprehend the obstacles in our way.
We are all complicit and contribute to existing systems of oppression every day. This acknowledgement does not excuse us from making different choices, not simply as individuals but within any collectives we participate in (friend groups, work groups, families). Oppression is not new and the long-standing historical implications of the ways these systems have created (and still create) confines and limitations, and contributed to historical and intergenerational trauma, is a reality that must be acknowledged. Trauma-informed movement work ensures that the impact of pain and violence enacted through systems of oppression is not erased. We are all carrying versions of trauma doled out through systems of oppression and we must be mindful of how that impacts our collective movement work.
As methods for opposing oppression, we hold the idea of building alternative power bases in high regard. Meaning, we reject the validity of cozying up to existing power structures and pandering to oppressors, or those who benefit from oppression. Investing time, resources, and thought into constructing new systems, structures and institutions rather than trying to shoehorn systemically disenfranchised people into spaces and practices not built for them does not create better conditions for those people. What possibilities can we construct that are not modeled off of existing power structures?
Higher education is core to our work and how we have been molded into contributors to social change. As our history alludes, institutions of higher education serve as sites of both opportunity and violence. We acknowledge a level of complicity with the means through which harm has and continues to be enacted as well as a continued aspiration to challenge this inherent violence both as infiltrators and external challengers. Our primary vision is an educational climate that centers the needs and experiences of systemically disenfranchised students and affirms and encourages sexuality and gender diversity. Taking the lead from other student advocates and activists, as well as reflecting on our own educational experiences, we hope to pick apart the intricate web of barriers disallowing full and complete access and achievement within higher education, including policies and practices that inhibit abundant possibilities for queer and trans people and their respective intersections.
Through this challenging and removing of barriers, we also aim to acknowledge and honor a more expansive definition of educational success. Obtaining a degree at a four-year university is not the only benchmark of achieving one’s personal and professional goals. There is a reliance and mythology built around the pathway of higher education that assumes without completing college, one is missing out on opportunities or setting themselves up for failure. We wish to celebrate other forms of information sharing, knowledge building, and skill enhancing such as certificates, internships, meaningful employment, travel, organizing, activism, and other personally affirming methods.
Beyond student arbiters, we acknowledge and applaud the role of queer and trans student affairs practitioners who attempt to provide additional leverage and weight to the voices of students on college campuses. There is an under-appreciated brilliance and narrative among these key players in higher education and there is great need to amplify and center these perspectives within academia to complement those of students who are infrequently compensated for their contributions, but who are frequently pulled away from their coursework to hold their institutions accountable.
The pitfalls and limitations of higher education are multifaceted and there are many systemically disenfranchised populations that are not well-served by these spaces. Our aspiration is not to prioritize the single identity stories of queer and trans people, but to integrate and enhance the fragmented efforts taking place to improve access and quality of education. Education is a right, not a privilege granted to an elite or anomalous few.
Again, as an iterative process, social change work warrants and demands staying attuned to the changing conditions, context and social situations of our time and political climate. Tools of social control and methods used to enact violence are ever-changing, meaning our strategies and tactics must do the same. Ideas for social change are seldom new and rather than adapting existing ideas to serve our own needs, we would benefit to focus on integrating into existing efforts, lending support and supplement to existing movements, to ensure the most relevant initiatives of our current context are allowed to be assertive and sharp. Our objective should always be to work ourselves out of the most recent self-assigned tasks rather than building longevity and legitimacy to our agencies. Organizations will not lead us into liberation, people will, so expending energy to sustain our offices distracts from building and sustaining the power of people. We will always make a mess of this, so we must always revisit our foundations and remind ourselves of this.
Our current conditions are riddled with contradictions and inadvertent collusion with the very systems we aim to dismantle. In our humble efforts, we must also remind ourselves of this collusion, the invisibility of these violent systems. There is no action that comes without complicity, but the recognition and naming of this double bind reveals to others the complexity of this work rather than conceal it for reputation’s sake. We recognize the truth that our spaces used for conference gatherings reside on stolen land but our advancement of decolonization and solidarity with indigenous peoples is also a truth.
There is no liberation in leaving others behind or dismissing other movement work to advance your own. We must find resonance and commonality within all causes and contend with the contradictions of our struggles.
Language is a vital tool for communicating and without it we are less equipped to mobilize and motivate others to consider, join or understand our cause. This is an imperfect tool, because language is impacted by cultural and class differences, elitist standards, and access to educational tools that support all people in achieving their personal standard of language efficiency. It is important to honor and maintain the origins of concepts created within movements that name and define specific circumstances because the task of naming and (re)defining is a tool of liberation. Additionally, there must be ways for those on the periphery or outside of that movement or circumstance to be exposed to those concepts, otherwise the tool can lose its power. We must find a balance between simplifying language in order to avoid maintaining elitist standards of language while also protecting concepts created to explain specific and particular experiences. Without citing and crediting these concept creators, we risk ostracizing those who may not have access to tools or research to learn about these concepts. Without normalizing and protecting the origins of these concepts, we risk over-simplifying their meanings and enabling the use of buzzwords, the use of social change language in the wrong context or without proper application.
Language has power and there is additional importance in recognizing and naming this power when it arises. When disparities in understanding, communicating or translating exist, there is responsibility within this work to acknowledge the error and correct it in ways that are deemed reasonable by those most impacted by the disparity. Part of this work is also understanding that we may encounter contradictions or disagreements in what is considered reasonable.
Within our collective community, language is used in various ways but one of the most prominent is as a method of self-expression and self-identification. Terms, labels, and language used to communicate elements of ourselves are often deemed sacred and valuable, which can contribute to feelings and perceptions of personal slights when that form of language is not used or honored. We recognize the specific and important utilization of language as a form of communicating personal pieces of oneself and the common experience of this language shifting over time to reflect changes in our lived experiences. This fluidity and personal connection with language is an important narrative to uplift when talking about the power of language and the negative impact of misusing/ignoring language by those who may not carry their own personal ties to terms and labels in ways queer and trans people commonly do.
Improvements in oppressed peoples’ material conditions are essential to alleviating class barriers that emphasize and create obstacles around other forms of difference. Obtaining stable housing and employment is a vital element to improving one’s material conditions. The long-standing myth that higher education is an assured pathway to achieving employment and wages suitable to live comfortably and contentedly has fooled incoming college students into acquiring insurmountable debt simply to be jettisoned into a job market incapable of offering such job prospects. The cost of college has increased at rates that the job market has not matched, meaning graduating students are ill-equipped to provide for themselves, regardless of what, if any, debt they may have incurred.
Simultaneously, our youth are being fooled by this myth within an existing system of capitalism that places value on certain labor, skills and people. Systemically disenfranchised people are impacted by concurrent systems that pose restrictions on their possibilities, both in college and in pursuits for employment. As navigators of these exact systems, we seek valuation of labor that has routinely been dismissed and subscribe to the notion of all labor being properly compensated as well as laborers being credited for their work. We are plagued with the reality of intergenerational wealth disparities, while others’ lineage continues to provide uninterrupted security. All efforts toward liberation must take into account reparations and the global redistribution of wealth.
As we continue to grow and evolve, we're eager to continue building relationships and developing mutually beneficial partnerships with others working in mission- and/or philosophy-aligned movements, initiatives, community spaces, and organizations. If we haven't met, please reach out and let us introduce ourselves.
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