Conference at UNCA tackles the “Q word”

This year’s gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer conference at UNCA, which takes place Thursday, March 22, through Saturday, March 24, will emphasize the most recent addition to its already extended name—the “Q word.”

“This started as a gay-and-lesbian-studies conference,” says the conference’s co-coordinator, UNCA literature professor Blake Hobby. “The Q comes from recovering what has been a pejorative term. Certain people might be called queer, and that might be a real insult. This is a way of reclaiming the word as an act of power, of actually owning it.”

So, to whom, exactly, does the term refer?

According to Kate Bornstein, the conference’s keynote speaker, queer includes any “person who is exploring the outer limits of their sexuality and gender expression.” An author, playwright and performance artist, whose work reaches the classrooms of more than 120 college campuses worldwide, Bornstein is considered an expert on all matters queer.

But queers aren’t the only estranged community that interests Bornstein. “Old southerners and trans [transvestites] are portrayed in pop culture as stereotypes; we’re both outsiders,” she notes. “I think if I can find what it is that we have in common … we could begin to knit together a lovely voting bloc.” That new notion of camaraderie will be explored during her Saturday morning workshop.

Putting a political bent to the timeless issue of social marginalization, this year’s conference is entitled Queer Today: Where Tomorrow? Communal Identities and Political Entities. Workshops, films and talks will cover everything from “Aging in the GLBTQ Community” to “The Future of Femme,” from “Marriage and the Family” to “Queer Utopias.” The conference will culminate with a Saturday-night Drag King Show and Progressive Prom.

UNCA’s GLBTQ panel is composed of about 20 people from different academic departments as well as recent alums and community members. This is the seventh conference they’ve organized. “This year’s theme very much deals with ‘What really can we do to make a difference in society so that there is more tolerance and acceptance for those of us who have queer identities?’” Hobby asserts.

All events are free for UNCA students; there is a sliding registration fee for other attendees. For more information and a full conference schedule, visit www.unca.edu/queer.

— Dana Henry

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