Banquet celebrates GLBT programs office’s anniversary

by Stacy Jo

In the wake of the recent murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, a gathering of the University queer community and their supporters Monday stirred even stronger feelings of activism than usual.
“Thinking about hate crimes and all the work we still have to do … it’s bittersweet,” said Rebecca Drake, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.
In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office’s founding, more than 70 people gathered at Coffman Union to enjoy dinner, speakers and awards presentations.
One of the office’s largest annual events, second only to the gay pride festival, the banquet highlighted the history of the office and honored pioneering work in the queer community. Erin Ferguson, vice president of the Minnesota Student Association and a lesbian, attended two GLBT banquets before Monday’s event. She said she observed a marked difference in the atmosphere from past years in light of the Shepard killing.
“I think things have taken on a more somber tone this year,” Ferguson said. “It really puts the fire in people’s bellies to keep working on this.”
In recognition of the office’s anniversary, Beth Zemsky, director of the GLBT Programs Office, reviewed the history of queer activism on campus. Zemsky discussed how each of the past events — like starting visible organizations on campus and adopting a sexual orientation discrimination policy — closely tied into the office’s future.
Mandy Carter, political activist and executive director of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Forum, addressed the crowd about the implications of elections on GLBT-centered policies.
She discussed the effects on the GLBT community when politicians who are not supportive of their issues are elected.
Annalee Stewart, professor emeritus in the School of Social Work, and Jeffrey Cookson, associate director of the GLBT programs office were presented with the “Breaking the Silence” awards. These awards are presented annually to individuals whose efforts to confront discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity improve the campus climate.
Stewart received the award for her work as an openly lesbian faculty member. Cookson, who has organized and attended the banquets each of the five years, said his efforts to represent the GLBT community at various University multicultural events earned him the accolades.
“I try to be supportive of other identity groups, issues and efforts,” Cookson said.
A committee of GLBT employees on campus chose the recipients.
While the evening’s events addressed serious activism issues, the prevailing theme was celebratory, Cookson said.
“We can’t survive if we always come together in crisis,” Cookson said. “We have to come together in celebration as well.”