Having grown up in a low-income household, I never had the opportunity to travel very far. In fact, prior to the Point finalist interviews in Los Angeles, I had never flown or been outside the South. So I was extremely excited to go to Washington, D.C., for the National Leadership Conference (NLC) for my second big trip—after all, D.C. is the home of the U.S. librarian mothership: The Library of Congress (LOC)! My current field of study is Library and Information Studies, so it was like taking a kid to Disney World. Libraries have always saved my life, and wherever I go, I seek them out. In L.A., I haunted the Central Library branch, and in D.C., I spent all of Thursday morning and afternoon in the LOC absorbing the sweet, amazing aura of the largest library in the world, including the display copy of a Gutenberg Bible, one of the first books ever printed, and most of the original set of books donated by Thomas Jefferson to start the library. Ahh, beautiful.
After my library adventure, the packed NLC schedule began. Friday was spent touristing around the Capitol, Supreme Court, and LOC (yay!). It was an interesting experience. On one hand, marble from my hometown was used for the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Capitol Rotunda, so finding a piece of tiny Sylacauga, Alabama, in such a significant location was amazing. However, American history is complicated and problematic, and a lot of that was on display. For instance, the painting depicting the baptism of Pocahontas is particularly troublesome. Intended to be a representation of the joining of the indigenous people of North America and the English settlers, it more closely depicts the oppression of those indigenous people and the intense levels of whitewashing that occur with American history. Following our tour, we spent lunch with U.S. Representative David Cicilline, and I was so proud of all of the scholars present that spoke up during the Q&A session. Every subject from Black Lives Matter to the disproportionate number of trans people of color being killed, to libraries (that one—surprise, surprise—was me) were mentioned; my fellow queer folks are woke!
The Friday session continued the conversation. I was honored to get to listen and speak to everyone on the Trailblazers panel, but Our Lady J was particularly gracious. In speaking about her past and changing her name, she said, “Any time my name is spoken in a space, it is queered.” This was true for all of us in a slightly different way over the course of this weekend. We queered the spaces in which we gathered, providing safe and blessedly peaceful places in which we could be the selves we want to be. Most of us spend our lives in fairly non-queer spaces. We may have queer friends or be involved in LGBTQ organizations, but many of us lack any sort of real community. Being surrounded by those who understand us in a way others cannot was an experience unmatched by anything else.
Saturday we were treated to a private presentation by two of the curators at the Smithsonian specializing in LGBTQ history and artifacts. While we were, again, in the presence of some problematic history, it was incredible to stand in front of items and papers so integral to our history as a community. LGBTQ history is not something we ever learned about in school; places like California are making efforts to correct this, but most people will never hear about the many, many important events and people who have created the space we inhabit now. The biggest takeaway from this event was the need for all of us to maintain and protect our own legacies. LGBTQ people not yet born need to know about our experiences. We need to preserve the evidence of our activism and personal lives, making sure they know that we struggled, we fought, we laughed, we loved, and we worked hard to exist as we wanted; that we were attacked, threatened, and killed for these actions; that we kept going anyway.
Sunday breakfast was full of selfies and number exchanges and sad goodbyes. The NLC was a wonderful opportunity in terms of travel, sessions, and experiences (and Pokemon catching! Why are there so many Doduos in DC?!), but the people we connected with were the most important parts of the trip. I spent four days surrounded by people with similar goals, people who understood me and didn’t judge me for my identity or research choices, and people who are all working hard to ensure that our futures are better than our pasts. I’m grateful for the funding and travel to conferences, but I’m even more grateful for my new Point family. I can’t wait to see y’all at the next event!
For more photos from the National Leadership Conference 2016, check out the albums on our Facebook page.
Thanks to all of our sponsors!
Dawn finished her undergraduate education at Florida State University, with a bachelor’s degrees in Women’s Studies (with honors), Religion, and Creative Writing. She went on to earn a Master’s in Library and Information Studies (LIS) with a certificate in Youth Services. Learn more about Dawn here.