Report from the National LGBTQ Students of Color Summit

I’ve always imagined
finding a space where
gender is not assumed,
where women are undeniably
and understandably attracted
to each other, and where men
embrace without fear. I found
this space at the National
Summit for LGBTQ Students of
Color on the day of my 22nd birthday,January
15th, 2005. Over two nights and three days, the
United States Student Association hosted a
national summit filled with grassroots organizing
workshops, “how-tos ” for your campus, methods
on how to challenge homophobia from other
student groups while still building alliances, and
late night dialogues on art and freedom of
expression.
Upon arrival, I nervously held my breath as
I walked into Ohio State University’s
Multicultural Center fashionably late, realizing
the apprehension was weakening my bladder.
As I skidded past the chatter of workshop participants
in a nearby room and noted the bold
black letters “Gender Neutral Bathroom,” I
recognized I was in a space safer than my usual
college environment and let out a sigh as
memorable as a lesbian’s first kiss.
Who knew that something as simple as a
National Summit for LGBTQ Students of Color
was so long overdue? Heck, I hadn’t even
realized this meeting was the first of its kind.
Fifty participants from across the US talked
about common experiences, shared strategies
for resisting racism and homophobia, and came
up with tangible resources and strategies to take
back to our campuses. Representing Brooklyn
College, CUNY, I was relieved to meet students
from commuter schools who also experienced
antagonism toward queer people and spaces on
their campuses, and who, like me, worked to
challenged that hostility. I was thrilled to find
myself in a space where race is talked about as
something more than a paradigm of “nonwhite.”

But much of the real work happened in the
evening. Once the formal workshops were over, and our
pajamas were on, it seemed we saw each other for the
first time. Cliques formed and intimate relationships
spawned in the hotel rooms. My most intense moment
was with four sisters who shared my sense of exhilaration–
and loss–in finding ourselves in a space we could
not own forever. After three hours involving many
withdrawals from the Kleenex box, we each walked away
with a newfound ownership of what we had created. It’s
difficult to measure the depth of emotion I felt in
attending this country’s first ever National Queer Student
of Color conference and in finding myself in a space with
other LGBTQ people of color.
Back in Brooklyn, I intend to bring this space with
me wherever I go. This semester the Brooklyn College
LGBTA will enforce a system for documenting
homophobia on campus. I am also aiming to get this
grassroots organizing training for CUNY following this
year’s Queer CUNY VI conference. Thanks to support
from CLAGS, the Brooklyn College Center for Diversity
and the Brooklyn College Women’s Center, I was able to
take part in this rewarding excursion.

Shawnta Smith is a student at Brooklyn College, where she is
an officer of the BC LGBT Alliance.