U. organizes conference for LGBT alumni in April
The University will host its first-ever conference for LGBT alumni this April. The event comes at the heels of the “She Roars” conference held for women alumni in spring 2011 and a gathering for black alumni held in 2009.
The event, called “Every Voice: A Princeton University Conference for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Alumni,” will last three days and will include presentations by alumni, administrators, faculty members and students. It will also feature “networking opportunities” and “fun social events,” according to the Alumni Association’s website.
The conference was created by Livia McCarthy, the Alumni Association’s senior associate director for regional affairs and affiliated groups, and David Mejias ’98, its associate director for affiliated groups.
“David and I have been twins, Siamese twins, in planning this conference,” McCarthy said.
There is no exact statistic of the number of LGBT alumni because the University does not keep an official database of alumni by sexual identity, according to McCarthy.
However, Mejias said the Alumni Association estimates the range is “anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 alumni” based on national estimates of LGBT people in the general population.
Both McCarthy and Mejias cited recent milestones in LGBT history as indicators that now was the right time to hold such a conference. These include the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, ballot votes in support of same-sex marriage in several states during the 2012 election and President Barack Obama’s coming out in support of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
While planning the event, McCarthy and Mejias traveled the country to connect with LGBT alumni from various walks of life. According to McCarthy, they held eight focus groups in seven cities in six weeks. During their travels, they met with alumni, discussed the alumni’s time on campus and asked what they would like to see at the conference. In all, McCarthy estimates that they connected with over 200 alumni.
“One of the outcomes that alumni would love to see is connecting with one another,” McCarthy said. “But they also want to bond together, to be a force to enact change, whether it be on campus or the greater community.”
For Mejias, who identifies as a gay man, the conference presents a chance for LGBT alumni to bond with each other or with their alma mater.
“I would say this has been an opportunity for LGBT alumni to come together and understand that they’re a part of the greater alumni community,” Mejias said.
Mejias said that for alumni who graduated before the mid-1990s, the Princeton experience may have been “tough.” Although he called his own experience at the University “positive,” he acknowledged that “there’s a whole segment of the LGBT alumni community which has not self-connected to the University.”
According to Mejias, this is largely due to the difficulties of LGBT history in general. Before the 1960s, Mejias said, the LGBT community had no visible political identity. Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, a distinct LGBT identity and community formed, and that extended to the University’s campus.
“In the ’90s the University realized that the LGBT community on campus was sizable and needed to be acknowledged,” Mejias said, “and since then they’ve been very helpful.”
For McCarthy, the opening of the LGBT Center in 2005 — with a full-time director and an accessible location in Frist Campus Center — was a watershed moment in the University’s attitude toward LGBT students.
“The LGBT Center opened its doors to us, and I think that created a visible welcome place on campus,” McCarthy said.
The University has since won various awards for its attitude toward LGBT students, including top-10 rankings on Newsweek’s “Top Colleges for LGBT Students” and Advocate.com’s “Top 10 Trans-Friendly Colleges and Universities.”
Alumni who attend the reunion conference can choose to attend lectures and presentations by University faculty, student panel discussions, cultural events, film screenings, alumni-faculty conversations, receptions and dinners, Mejias said.
The conference will be held from Thursday, April 11 to Saturday, April 13 of next year.