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Liberal Arts

Scholars, Activists Meet for 16th Annual Lavender Languages Conference

By Maggie Barrett

The world’s only conference focusing on the importance of language—broadly defined—in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered life will be held at American University from Friday, February 13, through Sunday, February 15.  The conference will be in the Butler Pavilion sixth floor conference room and board room on AU’s main campus.

Events at this 16th annual Lavender Languages and Linguistics conference will explore lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) conversations, texts, narratives, performance, popular culture, cinema, history, and representations.

During the presidential campaigns of 2008, many candidates—especially Barack Obama—spoke of hope and change. But what do those terms mean when it comes to LGBTQ rights and issues in America?  The question—one this year’s conference will address during a preconference workshop—highlights the importance of communication as it relates to sexual identity and orientation, the central issue of the conference.

The preconference workshop, Is “Hope” Enough? Anticipating the LGBTQ Discursive Landscape of the Obama Administration, will begin at 10 a.m. February 13.  Panelists will be congressional and White House staff members, political activists, and linguists working on LGBTQ human rights projects. 

Panelists and participants aim to achieve three goals during the preconference:

  • Identify how the Obama administration is constructing its queer-related policy arguments in comparison to its campaign trail rhetoric.
  • Discuss effective ways to invoke those same queer-related policy arguments to address issues such as employment rights and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, marriage, and the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
  • Develop a research agenda for lavender language inquiry to empower scholars and activists to speak more directly to LGBTQ issues under the new administration.

The three-day conference includes discussions and presentations about transgender, homophobic, and heteronormative language and texts.  One discussion will focus on the meanings of gay and Hispanic labels in U.S. newspaper texts. 

Another conference highlight, Sweets from the Sweet: Intergenerational Black Queer Language (Re)production, will use interactive presentations to illustrate how language is a queer process of reaching for self and community across generations within black communities.  The event will begin at 6:15 p.m. February 13.

In concert with the conference, the American University Museum at the Katzen will present the exhibition Carrie Moyer: Painting Propaganda.  In her paintings, Moyer uses the languages of abstraction and propaganda to advocate for human liberation.  Moyer will deliver a gallery talk from 4 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 14, at the museum. The exhibition opens Saturday, January 31, and closes Sunday, March 15.

The first Lavender Languages conference was held in 1993 in conjunction with the March on Washington, D.C.  An annual event sponsored by American University's Department of Anthropology and cosponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the GLBTA Resource Center, and other campus organizations, the conference has attracted participants from Hungary and the United Kingdom, from across the United States and Canada, and from a range of colleges and communities throughout the D.C.-Baltimore area. This year’s conference also attracted participants from Norway, Germany, Japan, and Australia.