Just over a week ago, I spent the weekend at the Campaign for Southern Equality’s second annual “LGBT in the South” conference. The conference was attended by nearly 500 people from all across the south. I was a lead volunteer this year, responsible for wrangling volunteers and assisting conference attendees at the Pack Place conference location. In this role I got to see many old friends, and meet lots of new people. It was a fun weekend for me personally, but the best thing about it was the community-building I got to witness.

I have been working in the LGBT-rights movement for over a decade. I’ve been out since 1995. I tend to move in circles where my sexual orientation is not much of an issue, or where it is considered mostly part of the mainstream. And so I forget sometimes what it means to be in queer community. I know that many LGBT persons across the south have very different experiences, whether they live in rural areas, attend conservative churches, or have unsupportive families.

The conference is intended to be a safe space for LGBT persons, and is organized carefully to meet that goal. From gender-neutral bathrooms to pronoun buttons, to the simple fact that the majority of attendees are part of the queer community, and ALL of the attendees are supportive, the weekend was a powerful reminder for me.

I remember times in my life when it was novel to be accepted as a lesbian at work, or at school. I remember the first time I attended a pride parade and experienced the power of being in the majority and not second-guessing my actions and surroundings, even if just for a few short hours. I remember how free and empowered I felt, and how that contributed to my ability to stand up today as secure and grounded in my identity as I do every day.

It was so wonderful to watch the youth and young adults at the conference enjoying the freedom of inclusive community. It was so lovely to see genderqueer people in all stages of transition having their identity honored. The experience made me recall my own history, and feel grateful for the work of the conference organizers.

YallMeansAll-buttonsBut most of all, it made me so deeply grateful to be a part of this UUCA community.  From our Sunday morning words of welcome – whatever your history, whatever your heritage, whoever you love, you are welcome – to our marquee stating Black Lives Matter, to the new trans* inclusive signage on the bathroom doors, you are creating a place that strives to welcome ALL. And that is important, sacred work. Because we can’t always be in safe spaces for our individual identity groups, and it is an amazing gift to come into a space like UUCA and have all these different identities welcomed.

It’s a beautiful thing.