Over 700 students from across the country gathered on campus this weekend to discuss sexual issues in the black community during the 17th annual Black Solidarity Conference.
The three-day conference, titled “Stigmas and Stereotypes: An Exploration of Black Sexuality,” included speeches by prominent civil rights advocates, small group discussions and film screenings. Wesley Dixon ’15, who served on the conference’s executive committee, said the conference sought to explore the evolution of black sexuality in modern American society.
“The goal of the conference was to educate and subsequently empower conference participants by fostering an understanding of the nuances of black sexuality and the role they play in molding the issues and structure of black communities,” he said, adding that sexual issues “are oftentimes avoided and considered a taboo among African-Americans.”
Topics of discussions included faith and sexuality, perceptions of masculinity and femininity, homosexuality and the portrayal of black sexuality by the media, Dixon said.
Angela Davis, an American political activist and author who gave the conference’s keynote speech Saturday night at the Omni Hotel, said in her address that the conference’s theme coincided well with the current social and political circumstances encountered by the African-American community. The Occupy movement — which she said is spreading the ideals of freedom and equality — and the election of the United States’ first black president should empower the black community to expand lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights in particular among African-Americans.
Davis said many African-Americans categorize people into distinct genders when evaluating sexual issues, but they should instead consider sexuality as a spectrum. She encouraged attendees to take steps to create a culture that accepts LGBTQ individuals.
Kevin Moore ’12, president of the conference’s board, said in a speech that the conference was intended to draw all types of students, not just African-Americans. Davis said African-Americans share many of their challenges with other groups, such as women, the working class and environmentalists. Organizers said while the majority of participants were African-American, some of the discussions attracted students of varying races and ethnicities.
“Usually, the word ‘black’ implies a kind of insularity,” Moore said, “yet I think everyone, regardless of race, could feel the conference’s strong presence on campus during the past couple of days.”
Attendees at the conference included Yale students as well students from between 30 and 40 U.S. universities. Michael Daniels, a junior at Morehouse College — an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta — said the small discussion groups fostered productive debate.
“Even though the conference didn’t specifically focus on coming up with concrete solutions, I believe the small, localized debates gave us space to voice some of the concerns we feel we have no space to voice at our own schools,” Daniels said.
Khalfani Lawson, a student at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, said the conference helped him realize that African-Americans face a significant challenge in fully embracing “different manifestations of sexuality.”
But Veronique Hob-Hob, a junior at Williams College, said her experiences growing up in Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal, made it difficult for her to take part in discussions, though she said the conference was educational.
The Black Solidarity Conference was established in 1994.