Minneapolis open to diversity

Lacey Crisp

When Sarah Miller came out of the closet a year ago, she wanted to meet other bisexual people and better understand her lifestyle.

Miller got that chance when she attended the 8th International Conference on Bisexuality last week. The conference was held on the University’s East Bank campus and attracted about 400 people.

The conference provided a learning atmosphere for participants, attendees said.

“I just came out, so I’m still learning,” Miller said.

Miller, an English junior, said one of the reasons she chose to come to the University was its diversity.

“Seeing that there’s a community makes me feel proud be bisexual,” Miller said. “The University is pretty open, especially with such a large queer community.”

Miller said it took a lot of courage for her to come to the conference, and that she hopes meeting similar people will give her the confidence to be more open with her friends and family.

Miller said she was glad the University hosted the event because she would not have attended the conference in another city.

University student and event co-chair Mary Hoelscher said Minneapolis is unique in its acceptance of different ideas.

“Minneapolis has been on the forefront of making ordinances open to diversity,” said Hoelscher.

People came to the conference from around the world, including Europe and Japan. Hoelscher said the threat of terrorist attacks and the Bush administration’s stance on gay rights was an issue for some of the international conference attendees.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t want to come to the conference in the United States and contribute to our economy because of the current administration,” Hoelscher said.

The group tries to stay out of politics and instead concentrates on building communities and awareness, but keeping quiet can be hard, Hoelsher said.

“We’re a very diverse nation and everybody needs to be taken care of,” she said.

The conference was about bisexuality, but was open to everyone, Hoelscher said.

Presenters selected their own workshop themes, she said.

About 15 people participated in each workshop, making it easier for people to be open with each other, Hoelscher said.

During the workshops, people gathered in circles, held hands, laughed and cried together.

The workshops focused on dating, health, historical aspects of sexuality, communication and research.

“Most people who are bisexual are not out, except to their close circle of friends, which makes it hard to do research on them,” said Scott Bartell, a Minneapolis psychotherapist who facilitated a few of the almost 80 workshops held during the conference.

“There are many ways people define themselves, but that’s not important here,” Bartell said.

He said bisexuals are not as concerned with gay marriage as gays and lesbians are. Bisexuals are more concerned about securing other civil liberties, he said.

The University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Programs Office helped organize the conference.

B David Galt, director of the University’s GLBT Programs Office, said he was glad his office could host an international event.

“A conference like this brings people in together from across the world,” Galt said. “We have hosted many events like this in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.”