Outside Wilder Hall, snowflakes disappeared into a green lawn dotted with golden leaves. Inside, Ralph B. '80 spoke quietly of honesty and joy.
"We know the value of honesty because we're so good at keeping secrets," he said. "Sexual pleasure and joy are priorities for us, not just something that comes along because you do what you're supposed to do."
Ralph B. returned to campus November 1-3, his first visit since he graduated, for a reunion and conference--From Family to Community: What Hold Us Together, What Pulls Us Apart--initiated by the Oberlin Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alumni (OLGBA). Unlike the two previous reunions sponsored by the AlumniAssociation affiliate group, this one was cosponsored in collaboration with the corresponding student organization, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Union (LGBU). The General Faculty's standing committee on LGB issues, the Lesbian, Gay Men and Bisexual Concerns Committee, also helped plan the event, which was modeled on a biennial conference sponsored by another student group, the Asian-American Alliance. The gathering convened hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, aged 17 to 94, about 40 of whom were Oberlin alumni. (The word transgendered is being adopted by people who have also been called transsexual.)
Students published and distributed a superb publicity kit that attracted attendees from Cleveland and at least seven campuses in Ohio and Illinois. Many spent the weekend as guests of Oberlin students, including a seven-member delegation fromWright State University in Dayton.
LGBU cochair, junior Andrew LaVallee, rounded up funding from eight organizations to secure the keynote speaker, Urvashi Vaid. A prominent activist and author of Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and LesbianLiberation, Vaid articulated themes that resounded throughout the conference.
"We are the hope for this tired country, where the family is in deep crisis," she said. "But we don't have a movement that is asking the hard questions. Instead of asking, 'Why is there a decline in moral values?' we should ask, 'How can any moral code survive a valueless economic system?'"
Workshop topics included political organizing, AIDS, and academic-research issues, as in previous OLGBA reunions. The busy lineup was enlivened with new subjects that proved immensely popular. In a session on parenting titled "They Can't Do That . . . Can They?" the presenters included partners Beth Wright '80 and Julie Kaufman '80, who have two children, as well as Ray Cagan '00, an Oberlin student who has two moms. About 100 people filled a lounge inWilder for a free-ranging discussion of sex, commitment, monogamy, and non-monogamy, billed as "One, Two (or More): Intimate Relationships in the LGBT Community." Among the panelists were 94-year-old L. Pratt Spelman '27 and Oberlin's director of human resources, Ruth Spencer '72.
Roger Goodman '68 summed up the spirit of the gathering during a memorial liturgy in Fairchild Chapel. "What we are about--as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people--is celebrating the joy of relationship, and expanding that joy to encompass all of creation."
Garreth Fenley is a freelance writer in Atlanta.
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