Melissa Gonzalez, gonzalezme@mnstate.edu

William Lewandowski, a senior from Fargo majoring in English, is helping plan Minnesota Out! Campus Conference (MOCC) for the weekend of Oct. 26-28.

Not only has he helped plan the event, Lewandowski is also volunteering and will be hosting entertainment events and panel discussions during that weekend.

As a co-president of MSUM’s LGBT organization, SPECTRUM, Lewandowski stepped into his role as planner for the conference because of his general interest and past experience as a programming assistant for the Rainbow Dragon Center.

The Midwest and its LGBT Community Presence

The conference is similar to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference (MBLGTACC) in that it provides opportunities for students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members from Minnesota, Wisconsin and the surrounding areas to talk about issues that the LGBT community faces.

According to its website, mblgtacc.org, the conference is an annual event held in different cities in the Midwest that is designed to connect and empower LGBT students, faculty and staff members.

“I had gone to MBLGTACC before and I was really excited to have (Minnesota Out! Campus Conference) here, because all (Minnesota Out!) is, is a mini MBLGTACC,” Lewandowski said.

Olivia Matthews, the coordinator of multicultural affairs in MSUM’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, worked with Marisa Gonzalez, a former college social worker at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, to bring the conference to Moorhead.

This year is the first time in Minnesota Out!’s history that the conference will be co-hosted by two colleges. It is also the first time the conference will be held in a small town like Moorhead, as opposed to bigger cities like Minneapolis.

Matthews is excited for the opportunities this conference will give to students.

“I’m excited for all the students to get here and see them get excited for the keynotes, workshops and activities,” she said.

The conference is usually held in November but was moved to October for two reasons. One is the odds of better weather in October, while the other is that October is national LGBT History Month.

“Getting students on campus to learn about the LGBT community, and helping them feel connected, inspired and empowered seems like a great way to honor LGBT History Month,” Matthews said.

A Co-President Dedicated to Providing Community Support

The lineup for the Minnesota Out! conference includes four to five workshop sessions, encompassing an approximate total of 20 workshops for the weekend.

Lewandowski will also host a panel, “Identity and You: Mental Awareness and Orientation,” that will focus on statistics of mental health in LGBT communities, coping mechanisms, and acceptance of mental illnesses.

Lewandowski plans to have an art project after the discussion to help participants understand their identity and their mental health. The project also helps assess what makes them better understand themselves or feel safety and joy.

Keynote presenters and events include:

  • JAC Stringer, a Midwestern LGBT activist, who advocates for transgender community resources;
  • Alicia Sojourner, the first racial equity manager of St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb; and the Red River Rainbow Seniors, a Fargo-based organization that provides social and educational opportunities for community members over 50 years old.
  • In addition to the workshops and presentations, entertainment will be provided in the evenings. Lewandowski, a drag performer since August 2017, will host drag bingo and trivia.

Bringing the Conference Theme to Life

So far, around 100 participants are registered for the conference. With this year’s conference theme being “Connect. Empower. Inspire,” both Lewandowski and Matthews want people to see the value conferences can bring to the community.

“Our biggest goal for this was to connect students with other community members,” Lewandowski said. “Empower them to be who they are, embrace their community and inspire them to go out to the community, make connections and take what they’ve learned into their own communities.”

And, Matthews said, bringing the conference to a small community like Fargo-Moorhead is valuable.

“We’re more of an isolated community,” Matthews said. “And we have LGBT students from a variety of backgrounds, including rural areas, and we wanted to provide the opportunity for them to get connected, feel empowered and inspired.”

The conference will also include an LGBT resource fair and HIV testing for anyone interested or in need. As the weekend of Oct. 26-28 comes closer, MSUM students, faculty, staff and any community members still have the opportunity to register for the event.