September 28-30, 2012
University of Illinois at Chicago campus
The 8th Annual National LGBTQ & Ally College Student Career Conference took place September 28-30, 2012 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The conference brought in 381 attendees from 27 different states across the country and 54 colleges and universities were represented at the event. The conference featured Keynote Speakers Mara Keisling, Reverend George B. Walker, Jr. and Joe Solmonese as well as breakout sessions and workshops presented by companies, organizations, and individuals leading the way in LGBTQ inclusion. The PRIDE Career Fair at the conclusion of the conference brought in 32 companies from a variety of industries promoting their career and internship opportunities. This was the first time that the OUT for Work National Conference has taken place on a college campus and the first time that the conference was moved from Washington, D.C, where it has taken place each year since 2005.
Alfonza Lewis, Georgia Institute of Technology
Chris Comeaux, Georgia Institute of Technology
Rachael Thomas Carlson, UW Milwaukee
Rachel Tsao, UC Berkley
Tyler Barbadillo, UC Berkley
Mohammed Rahman, UT Dallas Career Center
2012 Conference Testimonials
Essay Contest Winner: Rhiannon Urbanowski
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
"From the first pod meeting this morning, I have been able to learn something from every speaker and presentation that I can take with me back to my college campus, my current work, and into my future career. Although I have always recognized the need for a mentor, I was able to realize something about myself, a personal need/requirement for a mentor to be an active member of the LGBT community, which I never before noticed. This realization hit me hard because in my current position at the LGBT Resource Center on mu campus, I have experiences some personal difficulty in the transition of the previous Assistant Director to another center on campus which until today, I could not or did not fully understand in myself. Although I recognized that a large portion of my difficulty was related to this transition, I did not realize it was due to a loss, or a feeling of a loss in a person who I have a great deal of respect for and whom I felt close enough to ask for help in personal or academic/career situations. I believe this recognition will help me to recognize and better connect with role models.
I wish to learn from as well as help me to repair the relationship I fell a loss in even if that means the relationship will take on a new form. One of the greatest things I have taken from the conference is a sense of hope. Hope in the future, in the relationships I have, in my career, and in the world. Although I was able to take something from all of the speakers, I found Mara Keisling and Joe Solmonese the most inspirational. One of the first things Mara said "I am a transgender person and the Director for NCTE but those are not the most interesting things about me" really hit home in that I’ve often found myself getting wrapped up in work or school, fighting for a "battle" that was never my own, that I forget who I am and what’s important to me. Things such as "having a world view and a moral compass" or "knowing your super-power" which reminded me of something I forgot; "service is love so if you don’t love who you’re serving, get out". It has given me fire, a chance to reclaim the person I have lose, to hear these things and to be reminded of why, until recently, I have always done the things that I have done. Joe Solmonese’s advice, to "say yes to everything" was something I have heard persistently but never so eloquently.
The advice and encouragement to go live my life and experience things while I can is something I easily chicken-out of despite the regret I know I always feel later. Having that encouragement to live my life for me was very empowering and beneficial to the pessimistic voice that plays inside of my head. I have been very fortunate to attend this conference and although I initially only expected to learn about future job opportunities, this conference has provided me with so much more. The personal growth and realizations I have made over this weekend were something I never expected but which I fully intend to utilize when this conference is over.
I am so appreciative to find my sense of hope and passionate nature returning and it is all thanks to the spectacular people who have hosted, presented, and even attended the conference."
Alfonza Lewis, Georgia Institute of Technology
"I have a new outlook on life. Thanks to OUT for Work, corporate America doesn’t seem so scary and formidable. There are companies who are looking for individuals like me. They want my skills, my expertise, my uniqueness, and most importantly, they want the very best of me. In a world of economic uncertainty and troubled times, OUT for Work has shown me that I am a valuable asset not just for a company, not just for corporate America, but for the world. I was reminded and reassured that I am excellent. The breakout sessions taught me that I am a role model who others can emulate. The keynote sessions and OUT for Work panel has inspired me to take an introspective look at my life, figure out ways to tweak it, but to help others along the way. I was particularly inspired by Reverend George B. Walker, Jr’s speech because he reminded me that I was made whole and complete. Who am I to deny the very best of me and essence of me? Sometimes I still deny others the chance to know me because of fear, but I also know that I have nothing to fear. I have made friends here who want to see me success. I know employers who are willing to take the time to tweak, perfect, and help me with my resume. I have access to information, resources, and databases about LGBT friendly companies. So in a world filled with fear, uncertainty, financial turmoil, and instability, I have never been more confident, certain, and fortunate about myself and the opportunities available and I have OUT for Work to thank."
Peixi Yuan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"My name is Peixi. Born and raised in China, especially in a conservative household, it has been a real struggle to identify who I am and how to apply that to the workplace. Since coming to OUT for Work’s National Conference two years ago, I have learned, witnessed, and grown so much by real life stories. The successful professionals and their passion have been eye-opening experiences that have helped me to realize that it is okay to be out at work and I am proud of who I am with family, co-workers, and supervisors. This year, I am finishing my PhD degree and starting to look for jobs. Now, I can proudly list my experience, leadership, and personal compact within the LGBTQA community. Even better, I can proudly be out during my interviews, where I always get positive feedback from employers who are glad to have someone who is an advocate in diversity, focus, and promoting the importance of equality. Until this day, I was certain that I would not be who I am and as accomplished as I am right now without the influence from OUT for Work. I would never realize how amazing this community is and how important it is to address equality. I am lucky to get an opportunity like this. Not everyone will get the chance to find resources and support like OUT for Work. And that is exactly why I am going to be an even stronger activist in the LGBTQA community at my future work places and educating people about the importance of diversity and equality and helping people to feel comfortable and welcomed in the workplace as well as enhancing collaborations with corporate and all types of national LGBTQA organizations. It is going to be a challenging yet exciting journey and I am so proud that I can use what I have learned at OUT for Work and apply my knowledge, experience, and influence to help others in the future."
Raisa Mathis, Bowling Green State University
"I don’t have a lot of experience with business centered conferences. My experience is with conference like the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change, which has a different feel and structure. Comparing and contrasting these two events, I learned that I can’t take for granted the option of working in an open and affirming organization. My hope is to work in the non-profit sector. It is where my heart is, offering services and changing hearts and minds simultaneously are my dream situation. Before this conference, I assumed this field, being framed as progressive, generally, my sexual orientation, would not be an issue. I now know that this is not always the case. At first, this new information was discouraging to me, but after I sat with it for a while, I got a new surge of energy. I now more than ever, feel charged to change hearts and minds and change the reality for the LGBTQA community. Right now our orientation and expression is something that we have to negotiate into this hetero-normative society, an obstacle to maneuver, but one day, I hope it to be a plane which to occupy, and occupy proudly."
Miles Faciane, Northern Illinois University
"OUT for Work has been a valuable experience. The conference provided me with a wealth of insight. The world may sometimes become familiar to us from one perspective, however OUT for Work gives us the tools to draw back and see the world from the vantage point of our destination. We are shown the world we wish to enter and given the tools to get there. Above all else, we are given respect. Every person with whom I spoke has treated me with great respect to my opinions and my circumstances. At no point did I feel like I had any mandated course to follow but had the benefit of all the experience of all of the presenters to allow me to decide. This, to me, has been the point of excellence that makes OUT for Work a distinguished and quality experience."
Vantasia Joe, Marquette University
"My experience at OUT for Work was an amazing, fascinating, and educational one. I have learned to truly think about how my sexual orientation has an impact on the jobs I seek out for internships and co-ops. I have learned how to find great LGBTQA+ companies through the corporate equality index. I have opened my mind to the impact that Allies have in their own coming out process as well. I will take back the tools to my community and Marquette University of how to find the companies which support the LGBTQA+ people. I will also bring back information for the gender sexuality Resource Center about helping to educate the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center on how to find more corporations which are supportive. I plan to explain to the students at my GSA my experience and encourage them to attend OUT for Work. I learned to truly do my research of the companies because being comfortable in a workplace is crucial. I truly appreciated hearing Mara’s tips on jobs because it was honest and I needed to hear it. Essentially, I took away the knowledge to be who I am to the fullest despite what others think. Lastly, I really enjoyed networking and meeting some amazing people."
Brandi Strickland, Georgia Institute of Technology
"The most valuable advice I gained from the OUT for Work Conference is that we should be who we are 100% in and out of the workplace because we are amazing, unique, and we have a lot to bring to the table. Companies and organizations need to realize that they are overlooking 10% of the individuals who are hardworking, diverse, and are human beings. If we cannot be who we are in the workplace, we invest too much energy and time into deciphering how to fit in without revealing our sexuality, thus, our performance at work is hindered. Another aspect of the conference that really hit home for me was the push to realize that our sexuality is merely a fraction of who we are. Sometimes others who are not familiar with our culture fixate on this and overlook many of the other great attributes that makes us who we are; but most importantly, we often overlook them ourselves. Who we go home to at night is not what defines us. Mara was an extraordinary speaker and individual. The one thing that I took from her was not to take ourselves or others too seriously. While, yes, we do have struggles within society, we need to learn to make the best of it, laugh, and progress. Also, if you come across asking yourself, "why do I want to join an organization that doesn’t want me?" think about how little progress we would have throughout history if everyone had thought that way… Thank you!"
Chris Comeaux, Georgia Institute of Technology
"The conference changed my life in every way I had never expected it to, I can say the convention changed my life in every way I had never expected it to. I had no idea the stories I would hear from such inspiring and confident people, all of whom support my endeavor to reach every possible greatness within my potential and strengthen me for every failure I will meet. Never had I imagined I could feel such comfort and unity with a group as if I’m a note in a chord. I had never considered myself in the rat race, never seen myself measuring up to the great magnitudes of the people around me. Since arriving here however, I have met many people, some of which reside with LGBTQA prone companies, which have inspired me with their talked and share opportunities. I can see I have a place in the world and I can be as big as any before me, if not the largest. Not only do I see myself surmounting obstacles now, but with the knowledge of such a grand network of fantastic individuals in the LGBTQA force, I look forward to returning the inspirations and love they shown me. I want to go into the workforce representing a positive force and paving the way, so that it can yet become smoother for the next generation, completely frictionless. Just as each raindrop adds energy to the waking, waving face of a pond, I hope to serve the community with my success and pass on the energy received with my own fire and experiences to add. This conference has charged my life, but I recognize that isn’t enough. My life has to change this world!"
Craig Isser, Kalamazoo College
"Arriving at OUT for Work as a college senior, I thought that I already had my plan for coming out in the workforce. I planned to keep my gay identity hidden, not necessarily to lie, but to shy away in situations where it came into question and only discuss it when I felt absolutely safe to do so, all to protect myself. I have yet to find a significant other, so it hasn’t been too hard to conceal my nonexistent love-life in the part time jobs that I have held. However, I have still struggled. I have to awkwardly come up with a shaky answer when asked why a handsome young man like myself doesn’t have a girlfriend. I feel the need to exclude myself when male coworkers discuss women and relationships, whether or not the topics and tone is crude. There’s also much hesitation that I face when I want to discuss weekend plans for Pride, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or even certain theatre productions that I go to see. There is a fear that I do take with me to the workplace of giving the wrong clues to the wrong listener. I couldn’t even imagine having a significant other that I would have to conceal. I can only guess the sensation of shaming them every single day. OUT for Work has brought me beyond my initial beliefs. The impassioned speakers that I heard proved to me that being out in the workplace is more than just liberating. I have discovered that being out at work can be natural, peaceful, comforting, and beneficial toward my ability to be productive and professional. Reverend George B. Walker, Jr. is an excellent role model for me. He has shown that even a religious leader, a position that I do see as stereotypically anti-queer, can be gay and find a congregation and community that supports them, and gladly respects and follows them as a leader. He showed me that finding a welcoming workplace should be a priority for my long-term career path. However, I do take his teachings and the entire conference’s teachings with a grain of salt. As important as it should be for me to be comfortably out in the workplace, I do have to take my immediate safety into consideration first. Going back to my initial beliefs, I need to test the waters of any situation that I am in before I proclaim my sexual orientation. After all, my sexuality is one part of my identity, not the entirety. Most heterosexual people don’t just walk into work on their first day and overtly announce their sexual preference. I don’t need to do that either. OUT for Work has taught me to seek a healthy balance for myself. I should come out in the workplace when I am ready. Though every job I ever do doesn’t need to be sponsored by a major pro-gay company or organization, it should be something that I consider when looking for a long-term position, especially if I have a significant other. I should not make stereotypes about what careers I can and cannot pursue as a gay man. I also should not make stereotypes about the capabilities of anyone else, queer or not. The balance that OUT for Work has helped me to seek is tremendously valuable. With such balance, I can see where I have come from, the direction that I am going in, and most importantly, I better understand the proud, confident person who is on the journey."