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Rural LGBTQ people to explore avoiding isolation, building community

Green Mountain Crossroads organizes ‘Out in the Open’ conference

Events begin with a welcoming ceremony and potluck on Friday, Oct. 21, continue Saturday, Oct. 22, with roundtable discussions, and end Sunday, Oct. 23, with hands-on workshops and a hike. A free potluck and storytelling event open to the public and registrants is on Saturday, Oct. 22, at The Root Social Justice Center at 28 Williams St. in Brattleboro. To see the full schedule of events and to register (required), visit greenmountaincrossroads.org/out-in-the-open.

GUILFORD—On the weekend of Oct. 21, the Broad Brook Grange will serve as the southeastern Vermont hub for the Green Mountain Crossroads’ Out in the Open Summit, a conference for rural and small-town members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities in the northeast.

The summit is convened by Green Mountain Crossroads, a Brattleboro-based organization with a mission to connect “rural LGBTQ people to build community, visibility, knowledge, and power through social events, support groups, political education workshops, and multi-media outreach projects."

H.B. Lozito, executive director of Green Mountain, said the name of the summit evokes, “here we are in this rural space,” but Lozito assures interested parties, “you don’t have to be ‘out’ to come.”

For those who aren’t sure if they “qualify” for attendance at a rural queer event, Lozito offers this assurance: “Don’t get hung up on labels or locations or worry that ‘I’m not rural or queer enough!’ If you think this is for you, you should come.”

This year’s conference is a re-working and expansion of last year’s rural queer summit, also produced by Green Mountain, but the idea came to Lozito five years ago when their organization and Alex Fischer ran Homo Promo, a queer arts and events promotion company.

“I asked, ’How are we organizing in rural places?’” Lozito said, noting “Out in the Open” isn’t just about political organizing.

“It’s unlike other conferences,” Lozito said, explaining, “there are not really presenters. Our lived experience makes us experts. It’s everybody’s conference.”

“Lots of people organizing this are from this community” and other rural locales such as Rutland and Ithaca, Lozito said, noting “nobody from cities is telling us what to do."

Most of Saturday’s “Conversations & Ideas” roundtable talks — policing and prisons, anti-racism, food and farming, and others — are led by facilitators, not presenters.

“People will frame the discussion and move it along, and it’s up to the participants to contribute — it’s very participatory,” Lozito said.

Sunday’s focus, “Making & Doing,” is more presenter-driven, offering a variety of skill-sharing workshops, such as writing and producing a zine, a local hike led by the Northampton, Massachusetts-based Venture Out group, wood carving, and making focaccia in an hour.

Although registration is required for the summit, Out in the Open includes one public event, held at The Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro on Saturday evening: a potluck, with storytelling, a la “The Moth,” featuring tales about the rural queer experience.

“Anyone is welcome to come and share their story,” Lozito said, noting organizers will have an open-mic-style signup sheet.

Locating most of the summit in the Broad Brook Grange has a practical and specific political purpose, Lozito said.

The kitchen allows for on-site food preparation for the summit’s meals, and “granges have a history of community-building in rural areas, and keeping them open and vibrant community spaces is important to me and Green Mountain Crossroads,” Lozito said.

Holding the summit in southeastern Vermont has relevance, Lozito said, because “there is such a special LGBT history here, such as Packers Corners and AIDS activism. We’re really lucky to stand on their shoulders, and many of [those involved] are still here.”

Plus, Lozito, and other queer locals, say they notice more queer people are moving to the area, prompting the question, “How can we find each other?”

“We’re so spread out and people aren’t connected. There’s nothing else happening like this. There’s no place for rural queers to come together,” Lozito said. “As much as I love rural places, they can be super isolating.”

“I hear from queer people all the time that they move here because they can be queer here,” Lozito added. “The word has gotten out.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #379 (Wednesday, October 19, 2016). This story appeared on page C4.

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