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The 24th Annual Northeast LGBT Conference: Queering Religion: Intersecting Faith and Identity

From March 29 to March 31, the 24th Annual Northeast LGBT Conference was held at Siena College for the first time. For those who don’t know what this is, it is essentially a conference for college-aged members of the LGBTQ+ community that takes place over the course of a weekend. Students who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, and those who are allies, from universities all over the Northeast, register and join together for a weekend full of workshops, keynote speakers and a dance. The conference was started by the University at Albany in 1995 and has been held at a different college every year, hosting campuses in the past including Stony Brook University, Binghamton University and Rutgers University. There is always a theme to each conference as well, ranging from intersectionality to owning your own narrative, and this year the theme for the NELGBTC was “Queering Religion: Intersecting Faith and Identity,” chosen specifically because of Siena’s values and traditions.

The process to have this wonderful conference at Siena began in October of last year. The board of the conference sent out emails looking for a school to put in a bid to be the host school, and the e-board of the PRIDE-GSA on campus (including yours truly!) decided to take a risk and put in a bid. A Catholic institution had never hosted the conference before, and we knew how important it would be for that to change. It was accepted in January and then the process to get everything set up and ready before March officially started. After two months of stress, preparations and excitement, the conference kicked off with 150 registrants.

People who needed to check in, or register last-minute, did so at the MAC from 3 to 7 p.m.. Brother Edward Coughlin, the 11th President of Siena College, welcomed the registrants to the college around 6:30 p.m. and right after he spoke, a fajita dinner catered by AVI was served. Two of the Siena dance teams, Chaotick and Bhangra, performed and wowed the crowd. Hayden Kristal, a queer deaf Jewish activist who has come to Siena to speak before, then took to the stage to perform a hilarious stand-up routine, and around 9 p.m., registrants left for the day and prepared to come back onto campus in the morning.

Saturday was the most packed day of the conference during which there was a keynote speaker in the morning, workshops throughout the day and a dance in the evening. Breakfast was served at 8 a.m., and the keynote speaker was a queer, transgender Hasidic woman named Abby Stein. She spoke about her experiences growing up in a very conservative and religious community as a Hasidic person, and her experience coming out as a transgender woman in that society. She interacted with the crowd, answering questions and making jokes throughout her talk, and was probably one of the best keynote speakers I’ve seen at the NELGBTC. After Abby’s talk, the first workshop session started. There were four sessions total, taking place in Siena Hall, with a break for lunch between the second and third sessions. There were a total of 26 workshops spread out over these sessions, and a good deal of them were based on religion, including a discussion about the Palestine-Israel conflict, how transphobia and anti-Semitism might be more connected than we think, and how sex positivity and religion could intersect. Other workshops were not religion based, including ones about fetishization of the LGBTQ+ community, misogyny in the LGBTQ+ community, and activism through art. These workshops were presented by a combination of students, faculty members, and professionals and were well-attended! My personal favorite workshop discussed the importance of being body positive, especially as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. There was then a session for several caucuses, including caucuses for Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming folks, queer men, and queer women. After this session, there was a break for the attendees to get ready for the 90s Throwback Dance that was held in Massry from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Needless to say, the dance was phenomenal with bumping throwback jams and with spunky student DJ Elaine Gaynor!

Sunday was the shortest day with breakfast starting at 9 a.m., followed by a conference-wide workshop called GaySL facilitated by Hayden Kristal. The workshop focused on accessibility, discussions about disability in the LGBTQ+ community, and they taught us how to do several signs to describe identities in the LGBTQ+ community. Their presentation was followed by a closing speech from Brother Ed and the conference was officially done.

My experience at the NELGBTC this year was extraordinary. Even ignoring any bias that I may have had, considering it took place at Siena, it was well-paced, the conversations were fun and insightful, and the people I met were incredible. I’m excited to attend the 25th Annual NELGBTC that will be held at UAlbany next year!