In half a century, the focus of America's civil rights struggle has shifted from race and skin color to sexual identity and orientation. But the heart of the fight remains the same namely that it's not OK to marginalize and dehumanize people deemed to be "different."
Dr. Forrest Crawford, a professor of teacher education at Weber State University, hopes the institution's 14th annual diversity conference will spur new ways of thinking about the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer/questioning population. The event draws hundreds of students, faculty and community members each year.
"It is the civil rights issue of our time now," Crawford said of the LGBTQ quest for equality. "It's looking us square in the face, saying we need to know this community better . . . that we can no longer treat this community as if they were aliens."
The theme of the two-day conference that kicks off Thursday evening is "LGBTQ Changing the Conversation." David Parker, associate director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring Institute will deliver the keynote address.
The Institute, which relocated from Washington D.C., to the University of Utah eight years ago, aims to help schools and communities become more accepting of all people and develop climates where children and adults are safe to interact and create more productively.
"It's much easier said than done," Parker said.
Fear and ignorance generally cause people to shun those who are perceived to be LGBTQ, Parker said. However, he hopes that his speech, "Shining a Light: An Ally's Perspective," can foster dialogue that will lead to bridge-building between the straight and gay communities.
An ally someone who supports equal civil rights can rise to the occasion in life's small and singular moments, Parker noted.
"Sometimes it's by no longer listening to jokes that are offensive to a certain group, by no longer using words such as 'that's so gay' or 'he's so gay,'"Parker said. "Ask your friends and coworkers not to use those and let them know it's offensive."
Many people carry no ill intent but are simply unaware of the effect their words can have. However those words can open doors to further disparagement and isolation, Parker said.
"A great number of LGBT youth are afraid 24 hours a day to interact outside their home or pocket of friends," Parker said. "They don't know how people will react to them simply because of their sexual orientation. An ally understands that and has an obligation to let the straight community know that these youth are no different."
Parker's presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Weber State University's Davis Campus, 2750 N. University Park Blvd., Layton.
The conference continues Friday, with CNN Correspondent Don Lemon giving the 8:30 a.m. keynote speech, "Being Transparent in Our Communications," in the Shepherd Union Ballroom of the Weber State University campus at 3750 Harrison Blvd. in Ogden.
Lemon, a journalist whose work has won Emmies and an Edward R. Murrow award, publicly came out as gay in "Transparent," his memoir released in 2011 about homophobia, racism and "colorism" a term referring to bias based on skin tone.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Lemon likened the changing conversation about LGBTQ issues to his speech, which he said is still a work in progress.
"I don't do canned speeches. I like to be more organic," Lemon said, noting he attended his first same-sex wedding this past weekend, an event that people would not even talk about in times past.
"Love is love, no matter what," Lemon said. "The conversation is evolving by itself, and it's amazing to bear witness to it."
As a national voice, Lemon will highlight the formidable challenges of the LGBTQ struggle for equal rights, Crawford said, adding that public higher education should serve as the first line of offense in shaping society and the economy.
"What makes us assume that the best and brightest talent does not come from this (LGBTQ) community," Crawford said, "and therefore [we] push them to the margins."
Workshops continue through early afternoon Friday.
"LGBTQ Changing the Conversation"
Opens with David Parker • 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Weber State University Davis Campus, 2750 N. University Park Blvd., Layton
Events also take place Friday at Weber State University's Shepherd Union Ballrooms in Ogden, 3750 Harrison Blvd.
Friday's schedule includes:
8:30 a.m. • CNN Correspondent Don Lemon speaks about homophobia, racism and colorism
9:30-10:20 a.m. • Beyond the Division: Sexuality, Business and Religion (Part I); Deconstructing Gender with Dr. Gloria Wurst; Coming Out: A Conversation with RC Callahan and Allison Black.
10:30-11:20 a.m. • Beyond the Division: Sexuality, Business and Religion (Part II); Sexuality, Racism and Oppression; LGBTQ Youth in Crisis: Homelessness with Operation Shine America.
11:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m. • LGBTQ Legal Issues Discussion; QPR Training (about the high risk of suicide within the LGBTQ community); Town Hall Discussion on Changing the Conversation.
12:30-1:30 p.m. • Closing remarks on "Our LGBTQ Friends and Family Members: Replacing Misinformation with Love & Understanding."
For more information, contact Forrest Crawford at 801-626-6338 or Nick Berg at NicholasBerg@weber.edu.