This year’s Conversation and Dessert, hosted by the LGBT community and other local sponsors, will reflect the movement and the changing perspectives across the country, specifically with transgender equality.
“This (LGBT) movement around the country has taken off faster than any other human rights movement we’ve ever seen,” said Jody Cofer Randall, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Program Coordinator at Murray State.
When presented with the task of choosing a subject and speaker for the third annual Conversation and Dessert, Cofer Randall said it seemed obvious as to what people were interested in knowing.
“Throughout the year, we give Safe Zone presentations for faculty and staff during the Safe Zone Project,” Cofer Randall said. “One of the questions we ask them is, ‘what kind of additional training do you need to feel more confident in working with LGBT students?’ Time and time again, we always find that they hit on transgender issues. I took that to heart.”
In response to that request, Cofer Randall decided to invite LGBT advocate Mara Keisling to speak at this year’s Conversation and Dessert. Keisling is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a leading voice for transgender equality.
“Mara is known to be an outspoken and very direct speaker,” Cofer Randall said. “She speaks her mind and she speaks it very clear and bluntly. She doesn’t beat around the bush.”
The event will include both presentation and conversation. At 7:30, Keisling will give her presentation on transgender equality.
After the presentation, the conversation portion will begin. Students will be free to ask questions and engage in conversation with Keisling, Abigail French, the director of the Women’s Center and Renae Duncan, Murray State’s associate provost for undergraduate education.
“The intent is for those in attendance to engage Mara and Dr. Duncan in a real conversation about these issues,” Cofer Randall said. “There will be roaming microphones, and people can actually pose questions.”
The purpose of Conversation and Dessert is to make students, faculty and community members more aware of LGBT issues and learn from people who have experienced those issues first-hand. Cofer Randall said he wants people to speak with Keisling casually as if they’re having a private conversation.
“We physically set up the stage to look like a living room setting so it feels like sitting around the living room having a conversation with this person who really, five days a week is in D.C. demanding transgender equality and pushing these issues,” Cofer Randall said.
Although she specializes in transgender equality, that is only a portion of Keisling’s knowledge. People who attend the event may also discuss human rights and other aspects of the LGBT movement with Keisling.
The event is free and open to the community. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16 in the Curris Center Ballroom.
Cofer Randall said many members of the community will attend the event Tuesday including President Bob Davies, Mayor Bill Wells and several members of the Human Rights Commission.
“We use this event and this speaker not just to hit not just the students that I work with everyday, but to open it up,” he said. “If anyone out in the city of Murray thinks, ‘huh, I don’t know much about that,’ well, here’s a free chance to come hear something about it.”
Cofer Randall said that he wants to allow everyone in the community to learn about transgender equality and more about the LGBT community.
“More than half of my job is not planning events. Half of it is correcting stereotypes and assumptions that people have about LGBT people that are not correct,” Cofer Randall said. “I spend half of my time working with straight people or allies to reframe the conversation and direct it more in a positive direction.”
Cofer Randall and the LGBT community have worked to break down barriers and eliminate stereotypes on Murray State’s campus.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress with some of our trans-work on campus,” Cofer Randall said. “This summer we designated some transgender restrooms. It’s just a start to the work. It’s by no means finished.”
Story by Madison Wepfer, Staff writer