Sometimes it takes a tragedy for societies to see their flaws and repair the things that tear people apart.

The recent suicide of a gay college student in New Jersey following his public humiliation reinforces the immediate need to examine our common sense of justice, decency and fairness, said Jennifer McIntosh, executive officer for the President’s Office for Social Justice at West Virginia University.

“It’s a horrible event that is leading people to talk about this much more broadly, which absolutely needs to be done,” she said.

So it’s particularly timely that WVU is partnering with Fairness West Virginia to offer a conference that discusses these issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The President’s Office for Social Justice-Council on Sexual Orientation is hosting and co-sponsoring Keeping the Faith: The Fairness West Virginia 2010 Conference, to be held Saturday, Oct. 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Research Center for Coal and Energy, room 101A-B.

Fairness West Virginia, an advocacy organization that works for the fair treatment and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians, is organizing and sponsoring the conference. This will be the organization’s first statewide leadership conference.

The day’s main focus will be to use dialogue and understanding to delve into LGBT issues, especially in the area of faith.

Donald Hall, chair of WVU’s English Department and conference co-chair, said he’s hoping that the conference will draw from those who are interested in social organizing, higher education’s responsibility toward LGBT students and the broad issues of faith, healthcare and the law as they relate to the gay community.

“The conference looks at issues of law, faith, and sexual identity, which is very much in the news now,” Hall said. “The recent suicide of a gay student at Rutgers University demonstrates just how much we in higher education need to discuss issues of marginalization and inclusion.”

The keynote speaker for the event will be Ruthann Robson, the John T. Copenhaver visiting Chair at WVU’s College of Law and Professor of Law and University Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York School of Law. She will be speaking on “Faith in Justice: Considering Proposition 8, DOMA, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Following her speech will be a roundtable on Fairness in Faith that includes as panelists John Sonnenday and Kris Haig, co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown; the Rev. Dr. Shelly Barrick Parsons, of the Campus Ministry Center of WVU; Diana Masso of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston; and Veronica Copeland, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Morgantown.

Discussions on LGBT legal and wellness issues will follow, and a luncheon is included.

“I truly hope that individuals will leave the conference with a better understanding of the complexities of issues surrounding privacy, health care, domestic partnership, and the right to serve in the military as they impact the lesbian and gay community,” Hall said.

McIntosh said it’s important for the University to be inclusive as it works to increase its global presence.

“We need to outstretch our hand to everybody within the world,” McIntosh said. “We can’t segment that world. We can’t decide who we like and who we don’t like.”

The President’s Office for Social Justice has a variety of programs to promote diversity, including Safe Zone, which trains University employees and students on fostering a welcoming and supportive environment for LGBT individuals.

Two trainings will be offered during Diversity Week, one at 5 p.m. on Oct. 18 for faculty and staff and another at noon on Oct. 19 for students. Both are in the Shenandoah Room in the Mountainlair.

The conference will include the showing of the film “Out in the Silence,” a documentary about a gay teenager and his mother who stand up to attacks and community pressure in the small town of Oil City, Pa.

WVU is also showing the film three other times on campus:

Thursday, Oct. 14, 11:30 a.m., Gluck Theater in the Mountainlair
This showing is during WVU’s Gay Pride Week and will include a discussion led by T. Anne Hawkins with the WVU Carruth Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Services, and Barrick Parsons of the Campus Ministry Center. WVU Provost Michele Wheatly will be in attendance. It is sponsored by the WVU Multicultural Program’s Brownbag Film & Lunch series, the WVU President’s Office for Social Justice and the WVU Council on Sexual Orientation.

Thursday, Oct. 21, 7-9 p.m., Marlyn E. Lugar Courtroom at the WVU Law Center
This showing is during WVU’s Diversity Week and will include a panel discussion with First Presbyterian’s Sonnenday and Stan and Judy Cohen with the WVU Department of Psychology. It is sponsored by the WVU President’s Office for Social Justice, the WVU Council on Sexual Orientation, WVU BiGLTM, WVU Common Ground, WVU OutLaw, First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown, Presbyterian Student Fellowship of WVU, Fairness WV and Morgantown Community Coalition for Social Justice.

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 7:30- 9 p.m., Gluck Theater in the Mountainlair
This showing is part of WVU’s Mountaineer Week and is sponsored by Mountaineer Week Programs and the WVU President’s Office for Social Justice-Council on Sexual Orientation. Discussion leaders have not yet been announced.

To register for the conference, go online to Registration is $35 for the general public and $20 for students.



CONTACT: WVU University Relations-News

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