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Transsript of LGBTQIA2s+ Summit

Ashley Thornberg: We are going to start today talking about an upcoming summit addressing sexuality, sexual health, and the needs of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

There is a summit happening in Bismarck, October 20th through the 22nd. And I am joined by the keynote speaker of that summit, Taylor Brorby and Barry Nelson. He is on the board of the summit.

Taylor I'll also mention that you will be speaking in Minot on Thursday and you can go to Minot State University's website for details on that. Barry let's go ahead and start with you. What is the LGBTQIA2S plus summit and maybe spare a little time to specifically address the 2S part of that.

Barry Nelson: Sure. We’ve been challenged with the length of our title, but we are making every attempt to be as inclusive as possible. And 2S is particularly important for our region of the country. It stands for Two Spirit. And in fact, we're having a segment at the summit talking about the Two Spirit Society.

It's not what everybody thinks it is. It's really the intersectionality of Native American and sexual orientation and gender identity all wrapped up into one in a very unique kind of way to understand it. We’ve expanded this year. We've added a professional development day on Friday, because we kept having more and more people from health care, social services and law attending wanting to get information and we thought we would have a focus day for them training on Friday.

This is the sixth annual. It grew out of a trifold need that was expressed from within the LGBTQ community. One was that people were feeling very isolated and remote in different parts of the state. So it was a way to bring people together to connect with each other.

There was a high identified need for information and education. And there was a need for people to organize their voices because many needs have gone unmet and lately there's been a lot of policy that's been directed at the community. So a way to organize around responding and raising the voices.

Ashley Thornberg: And I just want to mention it to our listeners that back in May of this year, we had an interview with Dr. Gregory Smithers on reclaiming Two Spirits, and you can listen to that on the Main Street page of Prairie Public.Org for an in-depth discussion on how Two Spirit is not necessarily the same as thinking of this as lesbian or gay or even necessarily sexual in nature.

Taylor, let's turn to you now as the keynote speaker. You are the author, most recently, of Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land. This is your experience as a gay young man growing up in rural North Dakota. You're currently living in Alabama where you are working now as a professor.

Tell us what your plans for this speech are and why summits like this are important to your community.

Taylor Brorby: I think this is about the most incredible thing ever, Ashley. If you had told the 15-year-old gay boy that I was growing up in Center, North Dakota, that 20 years later, 40 miles away from where he grew up, people like him would be gathering, it would have just made him feel less alone, less of an outcast.

It would have helped him... have better questions other than questions about how do I get out of here to places where there are more people like me? It turns out, queer people are everywhere, if you haven't heard. And so part of what I'm planning to explore in this keynote is not only the landscape of North Dakota, historically speaking, and its focus on extractive economies and how that creates cultures of harm, particularly for queer people, we're seeing that in tandem with legislation around book banning, which the American Library Association has reported that last year, 41 percent of the book titles that were challenged had queer content, and of course, those book bans are trying to go forward, have tried to go forward in legislative terms in the North Dakota State Legislature. But also, in tandem with that, we see people promoting alongside the censorship bills, other extractive economies of carbon capture and storage, for instance, which is planning to be tested out at my family's home power plant of MinnKota power in Oliver County.

So there's a sort of historical overview that I plan to talk about there. and these two young girls in Devil's Lake, whose story still haunts me as Romeo and Juliet type of suicide pact that happened that still moves me when I think about that. And yet there are still also stories that I want to share to encourage people to stay just to celebrate the summit. I think this is such a radical act of inclusion and trying to create spaces of care for people who are the most vulnerable right now in American society, particularly transgender youth, and I want to share stories from my own life about people that I've met along the way who've been not only allies, but people that I didn't even know existed.

For instance, I only learned this year, Ashley, I was baptized by a lesbian in center North Dakota, and that is a story of reclamation for me. If I had known that growing up, I would have felt so much less alone.

Ashley Thornberg: You just used the phrase most vulnerable. I wonder, Taylor, if you would be willing to share a little bit your experience. This is a group that experiences bullying and suicidal ideation and suicide at higher rates than the national average.

Taylor Brorby: That's right the Trevor Project, which is an organization that's particularly interested in documenting the mental health landscape of queer youth, reported that last year, 41 percent of queer youth in this country had suicidal ideation.

It's higher than any other group. That number is higher amongst black, indigenous, and people of color who are queer youth. And that number is higher still higher amongst transgender youth. And it's just insufferable to me, to be quite honest with you, Ashley, when I'm seeing people like Governor Burgum sign a bill that allows public school teachers and state government employees to ignore the pronouns of our transgender siblings.

I just think that's so harmful and why are we trying not to pass? Why aren't we trying to pass? Legislation that allows us to be more decent and more caring people rather than more harmful people. So I just think of that daily violence that others might think isn't a big deal. But if I were to try out, let's say, on the straight males in my family, if I started to call them she all the time, oh, she said this, she said that, oh boy, it turns out pronouns really do matter to those guys.

So I just think in those ways, how are we in our daily moments being hostile to our neighbors rather than compassionate? And I think that creates a type of psychological terror that can exist within a community

Ashley Thornberg: That's Taylor Brorby. He will be delivering the keynote address at the upcoming LGBTQIA2S+ Summit happening October 20th through the 22nd in Bismarck.

He'll also be speaking on the campus of Minot State University on the 19th. Also joining us today is Barry Nelson, one of the organizers of the summit. Barry, you are straight. Yes. Why did you want to work on this summit?

Barry Nelson: You know, we all are better when we are all doing better. I'm a part of North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and we look at all populations that were whose rights are either not being honored or are being challenged daily as Taylor just talked about in our last legislative session and, I just tend to feel that our society is broken when we cannot honor all residents of our community.

And so this was one way to be able to put my skills and efforts to something that is positive. And it's turned out to be extremely, extremely helpful and positive. It's a transformative experience for many people. It's grown every year. I want to say a couple things. One in particularly as Taylor was talking is the theme of this year's summit is Together We Rise. And it truly is demonstrating that as much as we recognize the environment in which we are in which vulnerable people are being under attack by our policy makers and their leaders. There is a resiliency and strength within our community when we come together and organize. And this is the part of that.

Kind of a sub theme is, this is our home too. No matter what you do, you can't erase us. You cannot make us go back in the closet, so to speak and you cannot chase us out. We are here and we are here to stay. Longer answer than maybe you're looking for, but I feel truly compelled to be a part of this organization, be a part of this community.

Ashley Thornberg: Taylor, talk to us a little bit about the role of straight allies from your perspective, not, of course, speaking on behalf of all gay men.

Taylor Brorby: For me, it's just been bedrock. I mean, you can sense if someone's a safe person where you can fully express who you are, you know that for me in my own life. It's stereotypically a bit easier to be out around women. Particularly on the northern Great Plains, but that's not the pure test. I just there's a certain type of masculinity that I think can grow and fester on the Great Plains where men are reduced to a stubble.

And even if they're open-minded, maybe aren't signaling it in ways that allow a man like me to be fully myself, which is an expressive, gregarious, my sister would say dramatic type of gay man. I think for me, it also just comes down to someone signaling first that they're safe and I think for me that's something from my life that can extend to our allies out there is to be talking openly when you're around youth that you might not know their gender identity.

If I had heard people in my household or at family reunions talking about their queer friends, I would have felt so much safer. I didn't really feel that way until that same big sister who calls me dramatic introduced me to two of her gay friends in Seattle when I was 14. And I thought, Oh my God, I've met someone like me, you know? And so I just think if in our conversations. We're signaling that to people like me, it allows my shoulders to relax and we can meet more on equal terms and get to know each other on a deeper level.

Ashley Thornberg: I'm curious to hear from both of you, what words like masculinity and femininity mean to you?

Taylor Brorby: I think, I sashayed out of the womb when you, you know, look back at pictures of me. It's very clear, I was fully realized and who I was while I was.

Marching around my mother's high heels singing Sister Suffragette. Now, would we call that feminine? I wouldn't. I would call it fabulous, and incredible. But I think there are these binaries we still get stuck in. if you talk to four or five-year-old boys, they'll still say flowers are really cute.

It hasn't been cultured out of them. They haven't been hardened in certain ways. And I think, one of the psychologists, Freud or Jung, had said, all of us for the first six weeks of our life are developing more in a female type of way. And what is it that men have done to kill off that part of ourselves?

So I think those binaries for me, they're a little bit more textured and mixed up and related that I don't want to think of myself as masculine in some ways and feminine in others. It's more of the spectrum of how we get to live a life should be open to everyone I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Barry Nelson: I consider it to be a learned construct. I think that's what Taylor talked about that. It's very restrictive. It's somehow that one is supposed to perform in a certain way because of how one looks or how someone has been defined at birth. I think of the, Constructs that are really limiting to males in terms of defining intimacy that I think is really to our undoing that we, you know, whether it's intimacy with other men or women, both were being haunted by this construct that's very destructive. I remember as a boy growing up, I was one of those boys that loved the garden, loved art, and loved flowers. And as I got older, I was finding that was not really reinforced. And so I was forced to behave in a certain way that wasn't natural to me.

I think these identifications of masculine feminine are, really, hopefully will continue to be broken down and probably will happen from our non-binary population that will help us do that.

Ashley Thornberg: Barry, there are 25 speakers at this summit, which is only a couple days long. Let's just talk a little bit about how the summit is going to work.

Barry Nelson: Exactly. It is a very educational, focused, intensive weekend. There's no question about that. We have national groups there. Taylor talked about the Trevor Project. We're so excited that they're rejoining us again. Delighted to have Taylor Brorby come and join us Saturday morning.

I stress that it is a registration only. People need to register in order to attend, the summit. Once they get there, they are going to have to be making choices. We have keynote speaker, but we also have breakout sessions where people will choose which one they would like to go to. In addition to the Trevor Project, we have National Center for Lesbian Rights, AARP, the State Agency Project, Faye Seidler, a local expert, will be there.

We will be providing education around suicide prevention, mental health access, health care access, and advocacy work. It really covers the gamut, and so people can choose, they can go ahead of time and look at our schedule, which is You can also register online. I want to stress that we don’t have people register for the entire summit. They either can come to the professional day, they can come to the professional day and the full weekend schedule. But we're also allowing public to attend the keynote speaker Saturday. There's also a showing of a film called 1946, which will be shown at 1230 Saturday afternoon.

It's an incredible film about how the Bible reconstructed the perception of homosexuality.

This is an event that has lots of moving parts, and we're particularly excited about the Saturday evening event, which is a drag show that's being hosted by our local partner in Bismarck, Dakota Outright. The drag show will be at the Bismarck Event Center. It is open to the public with an admission fee.

Ashley Thornberg: You've mentioned professional development a couple of times. Who is your target audience when you talk about continuing education?

Barry Nelson: It was really a response to a request. We had lots of requests from people in education, themselves, whether it's K 12 or higher education.

We had requests from people in the healthcare field, in social services, licensed social workers, addiction counselors, and the legal professions. So we have, I believe, five associations are offering CEUs for attending these sessions. So if you're a licensed social worker, if you're an addiction counselor, you can apply through your organization and get, CEUs and also educators.

It's been approved for education credits.

Ashley Thornberg: I want to ask this to both of you, Barry. Early on in the discussion as we were naming this, the LGBTQIA2s+ summit, you jokingly said we gotta talk about these letters. Then Taylor has used words like radically inclusive and the theme is, together we rise.

But I wonder what is the current discussion on how do we be radically inclusive, but not to the point where maybe we get so stuck on names that we're not really having meaningful conversations anymore. Is that happening?

Barry Nelson: I think part of the reason why we kept adding letters is because at this stage of the game, when there's such an exerted effort to erase people, that it's really important for people to see themselves.

It might seem minor in terms of using a title that has lots of letters to it, But it is truly important until we can reach the point where that kind of identity is not being erased and where people can just feel accepted and visible in this society, we need to be very deliberate about doing that.

Taylor Brorby:

From my vantage point to we're at such a time of nuance and complexity.

I think the spectrum, as Barry's saying, is getting defined, and it's continuing to expand. I find that really exciting, that male friends of mine who are in straight presenting relationships are coming out in their own ways, not as gay or bisexual or even using queer, but that there's some more interesting stuff happening at the periphery of how we think of ourselves and our identities and who we are.

And I hope that is ongoing. I think yesterday I was talking with my sister and one of the nephews, who's a barbaric 13-year-old that I love. He was in the car and I had said how someone I had been in conversation with had said a transphobic comment. And so Alexander had asked what transphobia is and then he asked us to really help him understand what transgenderism is and trying to I think about that in ways that meet a 13 year old, unfortunately straight, presenting boy, --- so far as I know, I'm still hoping one of my nephews is a member of the club at some day --- but that in those times and in those ways, as Barry's saying, I want to continue to be a part of the action that's helping create allyship and curiosity and knowing that asking questions are okay Like you're saying Ashley at the beginning of the question of getting bogged down in words or labels well, for me as a writer those are important. They're the particular details that make up who we are and so I'm trying to do my best daily to get it right and to not assume and to always ask questions.

I think any of us who are in the queer community appreciate when we're asked kind and curious questions. It signals to us that you're a safe person that wants to learn and to help us feel safe and acknowledged.

Ashley Thornberg: That's Taylor Brorby. He is the author of Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land, among other publications.

He’ll be reading from that at Minot State University this coming Thursday and speaking at the upcoming LGBTQIA2S+ Summit in Bismarck on the 20th through the 22nd. Taylor, thanks so much for your time today.

Taylor Brorby: Thanks for having me, Ashley.

Ashley Thornberg: You can find out more about him at Also with us today is Barry Nelson. He is the Interim Executive Director of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition and is on the board organizing the summit. You can find out more about the summit at ndlgbtqsummit. com. Barry, thank you so much for your time today.

Barry Nelson: It's been a pleasure.

Main Street transcripts are AI generated and corrected on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of Main Street programming is the audio record.