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UNC queer youth ready for Unity
Largest LGBT student gathering in South could draw 500 or more

by Matt Comer . Q-Notes staff

Slam poetry performance artist D’Lo will be a featured speaker and performer at UNC’s Unity Conference.
Photo Credit: Todd Klinck
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Since 2001, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance (GLBTSA) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has drawn hundreds of queer youth and students from across the southeast for their annual Unity Conference, the largest LGBT and allied student gathering of its kind in the South.

The conference provides opportunities for participants to discuss the intersections of gender and sexuality with ability, age, class, faith, health, race and ethnicity. Students also discuss strategies for effective grassroots organizing and learn about the work of other activists.

This year, those discussions will fit into the conference theme, “Are you being served? LGBTIQ Representation in the Media.” The 2008 Unity Conference will span the weekend of Apr. 4-6.
“This is an election year, so there is a lot of media coverage around political and LGBT issues,” Conference Director Robert Wells told Q-Notes. “There has also been a lot of talk about the decline of LGBT characters on TV shows and in movies.”

A senior at UNC, 21-year-old Wells has a full course load, two jobs and the immense responsibilities of overseeing the conference.

“[Organizing the conference] has been great. It has gotten bigger every year and as it does we have to take that into consideration,” he said. “It has been quite a challenge — I could spend up to 20 hours each week volunteering for this. I think I’ve gotten really good real world experience doing this.”

Wells has been involved with the GLBTSA since his freshman year and has served as the editor of the organization’s quarterly, LAMBDA, the oldest LGBT student publication in the nation.

“We really wanted to do something that would interest a lot of people,” Wells said. “‘Media’ is such a broad theme. We have workshops on theater, music, comic books and even one on pornography.”

Shannon Gilreath, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, will lead the workshop on “Gay Pornography and the Eroticism of Gay Citizenship.” Wells explained that Gilreath’s workshop would focus on how some portrayals of gay men in pornography are hindering the entire LGBT movement.

In addition, Slam poetry artist D’Lo will be featured on Friday evening. Born in Sri Lanka, D-Lo has spoken out about her status as both a queer woman and immigrant.

On Saturday, a panel on “Breaking Ethnic Barriers” will feature North Carolina activist Mandy Carter, Durham-based blogger Pam Spaulding and Pastor Roger E. Hayes of Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship in Winston-Salem.

Wells said planning for the 2008 conference started immediately after the close of last year’s event. He spent the summer getting price quotes and engaging speakers. When school started in the fall, he began working with a committee of volunteers.

Putting on an event the size of the Unity Conference isn’t cheap. With costs exceeding $20,000, Wells has worked tirelessly to network with campus departments, community organizations and private donors to raise the needed funds. Less than half the money will come from UNC’s student government.

In addition to opportunities for education and networking, Wells said the weekend should offer plenty of fun, as well. Organizers will host a private party at a local nightclub on Friday night and they are also working on a social event for youth under 21, that will also be open to high school students who wish to attend.

UNC-Chapel Hill students can attend the 2008 Unity Conference for free; others must pay a registration fee of $10-$40, on a sliding scale. Pre-registration is required. Note that all conference-hosted housing is filled.

— For more information or to register, visit www.unc.edu/glbtsa/unity.

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