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Celebrating Diversity: Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference Arrives

St. Olaf will host the seventh annual Minnesota Out! Campus Conference MOCC Oct. 12-14. Open to all students, faculty and community members from around Minnesota, MOCC provides participants with opportunities to discuss relevant issues in a safe environment.

St. Olaf is only the second institution of faith to host MOCC – the first being Augsburg College. By offering its campus, St. Olaf made a statement.

“Being an ally or being GLBTA and being a person of faith are not mutually exclusive,” said Katherine Barnes ’13, St. Olaf’s MOCC Committee chair. “I think it’s important for those who are religiously progressive to have a platform for their beliefs as well.”

This year’s theme, “Creating Cohesive Communities: Sharing Perspectives and Celebrating Diversity,” explores issues involving faith, as well as many other topics. MOCC offers speakers, performances and discussion-based workshops.

“The point of the theme is to [encourage] attendees to consider the viewpoints and experiences of others, and then using those stories to bring more cohesion to their communities,” Barnes said.

Friday’s keynote speaker, Kye Allums, will speak on transgender issues as part of his Transition Tour. Allums is a graduate of George Washington University and made history last year when he came out as transgender male on the GWU women’s basketball team, making him the first openly transgender person to play NCAA basketball.

Saturday’s keynote, Coya White Hat-Artichoker, will discuss issues prevalent in Minnesota, including marriage, sovereignty and liberation. Coya is a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe and writes for The Huffington Post.

Natalie Clark, Sunday’s keynote, will address how we construct the queer identity, and how it affects the LGBTQ movement. Natalie hails from Duluth and recently started her own company: Thrive.

“Collectively, these speakers were chosen to provide a variety of commentary on both the history of the movement, but also the contemporary issues,” Barnes said.

Punctuated with six workshop sessions, this year’s MOCC will encourage session leaders to discuss issues in a diverse dialogue. The sessions will broach a variety of topics ranging from “Effective Allyship,” to “Sports in the LGBTQ Community,” to “Making a Worship Space a Safe Space,” featuring leaders from all over Minnesota.

“Our selection of 30 workshops will offer attendees a chance to learn about different facets of the queer community while providing a safe atmosphere for poignant conversations,” MOCC Logistics Coordinator Michelle Wheeler ’14 said.

While the speakers mainly focus on personal experiences, workshops will hone in on specific issues, fostering discussion among attendees.

“The workshops will provide an opportunity for more specialized discussions ranging from politics to religion to health and wellness to media,” Barnes said. “We chose workshops to reflect a diversity of interests. They are important because this is where the bulk of the learning and idea sharing occurs at the conference.”

Additionally, Saturday’s lineup features various caucuses, including “Ally Think Tank, Faith,” “Working Professionally for Queer Issues,” “Building a Student Presence” and “Volunteering for the Minnesota Campus Alliance.”

“The caucuses are an opportunity for more conversational based interaction. At some conferences, they are identity based, meaning lesbian, transgender or people of color, etcetera, but for MOCC 2012, we wanted to take more of a topical approach,” Barnes said. “Students will be bouncing between these conversations, and the point of them is not only to share perspectives, but also to formulate solutions for themselves.”

Aside from chances to engage in discussions, activities such as dance breaks, a cabaret and a drag ball provide conferencegoers with a chance to have fun and meet new people in a queer & ally-filled environment.

“A big part of this conference is having fun and meeting new people. What better way to do so than dancing in the Pause and interacting with drag queens?” Barnes said.

There Will Be Light – a documentary theatre-based cabaret – hits the Pause Mane stage on Friday night. The cabaret presents testimonies against the Marriage Amendment through videos, songs and speakers.

“The show sheds light – pun intended – on this important issue in an artistic way,” Co-Director Tucker Moore said. “The passion of the cast is apparent in performance, and I believe the audience will leave feeling empowered and ready to vote no on Nov. 6.”

Wheeler believes that providing a safe space to converse and develop viewpoints is an important step toward a more accepting future.

“This event is important because it invites dialogue surrounding some of the most crucial social justice issues of our time,” Wheeler said. “MOCC 2012 will be a wonderful opportunity for all St. Olaf students to broaden their horizons and challenge their preconceived notions of the queer community.”