Tulsa to host LGBTQ conference

Conference for Change, an historic two-day event designed to promote understanding about the need to develop and implement inclusive policies and practices to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals in Oklahoma, will take place February 16 and 17, 2011. Hosted by Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq), the conference has already attracted more than 700 professionals, religious leaders and educators, and will address topics ranging from workplace discrimination to LGBTQ issues in faith communities to anti-bullying and suicide prevention.

This groundbreaking conference has made its way onto the national agenda and will feature representatives and presenters from such renowned and respected organizations as PFLAG: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gay; Friendfactor; GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; and the Trevor Project, the national crisis and suicide prevention group whose work to prevent bullying was recently showcased on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“The sheer quantity and caliber of people and presenters planning to attend this conference is indicative of the need and readiness for dialogue in Oklahoma surrounding issues of inclusivity,” said Jody Huckaby, Executive Director of PFLAG, who will deliver the opening keynote address at the conference.

The goal of the conference is to provide the professionals, religious leaders and educators in attendance with practical tools and steps that can be implemented, some immediately and others over time, to assure the full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals and their families in the Oklahoma community at large.

Organizers of the conference chose to hold the gathering in Tulsa both to highlight the city’s vibrant LGBTQ community and to establish its progressive track record as a standard for inclusivity throughout the rest of Oklahoma and in surrounding states. In 2008, Tulsa was named an emerging city for same-sex couples; it is the only urban metro city in a five-hour drive that has a non-discrimination policy in effect for city personnel; and 30 faith communities in the city welcome LGBTQ individuals into their congregations. And yet, in light of the recent spate of suicides by LGBTQ teens, the need for solutions at the local, regional and national level is urgent.

“Tulsa is an LGBTQ bright spot in Oklahoma, while the rest of the state appears to be growing more hostile and intolerant of LGBTQ issues,” said Toby Jenkins, Executive Director of OkEq. “We anticipate this conference will help us explore some of the problems facing the LGBTQ community at the state-wide and national level and look at ways we can solve them locally. We believe that the sessions will give Tulsans a chance to openly discuss some of the challenges they are facing, while also brainstorming viable solutions.”

Each day of the Conference for Change will focus on a particular theme:
•    Day 1: Straight for Equality: Straight in the Workplace. Interactive sessions will provide participants with specific ways to develop, adopt and implement inclusive policies and practices that can transform their workplace into a more LGBTQ-friendly environment.

•    Day 2: It Gets Better: Anti-bullying and Suicide Prevention. Participants will receive expert training in GLSEN’s celebrated Safe Space Campaign and interact with panelists on effective responses to anti-LGBT bullying and biases in schools and on college campuses.

For a full schedule go to: www.okeq.org/conferenceforchange

Attending the conference is completely free, thanks to the generosity of the sponsors, which include the Burnstein/Coretz Family Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Gay and Lesbian Fund for Tulsa, Oklahoma State University, PFLAG Tulsa Chapter, Samson Investment Company, Sharna and Irvin Frank Foundation, Talmadge Powell, The Williams Foundation, Tulsa Metro Chamber, TW’s-AFAB Catering and Xposure.

“Williams is honored to support the Conference for Change through our employee-driven grant program,” said Alison Anthony, President of The Williams Foundation. “Building community and work environments where all individuals are valued and respected will be a cornerstone of the city’s ability to attract and retain businesses and new residents.”  

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is also proud to be a part of the discussion and to be involved in promoting inclusivity on the national level. The Foundation recently announced a partnership with the Human Rights Campaign to create a Jewish Community Equality Index—an expansion of HRC’s Corporate Equality Index—which will investigate existing workplace policies for LGBTQ employees at Jewish non-profit organizations.

“As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, the dignity of all humans is wrapped up in the dignity of each human,” said Lynn Schusterman, Chair of the Foundation. “Starting with this groundbreaking convening, we can begin to forge a culture [in Tulsa, Oklahoma] in which inclusivity, diversity and equality are paramount, and in which LGBTQ individuals are embraced as full and vital members of the human family at home, at school, at work and in every aspect of communal life.”