Beyond the #CWSDC2015

–Latoya Nugent–

A number of persons from the WE-Change delegation have written reflections about their experience at the 3rd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference, so I won’t bore you by writing about all the incredibleness that was the #CWSDC2015. Thanks to Magisto, Twitter, Facebook, Antillean, and a few blogs, we all know that the #CWSDC2015 was amazing! It started with the philosophical awesomeness of Dr. Angelique and ended in fine teaching style with the praxis guru Dr. Gabriel.

Latoya - Testimonial

You may be wondering then about my reason for wasting your time by asking you to read yet another blog… you’ll soon find out:). The question I hope to answer by writing this piece is this: now that the conference is over and we have watched, read, seen, heard about it, what next, apart from St. Croix 2016 and possibly Sint Maarten 2017?

What were the practical, everyday, important, critical, often forgotten lessons learned, and how can, and will we action those lessons?

The #CWSDC2015 was themed around actioning women’s leadership – leadership everywhere. Thus I want to talk a little bit about how I hope the participants will be or have been utilising this Caribbean space as a platform for leadership and driving the kind of impact that I am certain the conference organisers and funders would like to see; then I want to talk a little about a few considerations for  the #CWSDC2016.

12322521_10153177330023038_5452144723333294821_o What have I seen thus far?

  1. Following the conference, a WhatsApp group was created, perhaps something regarded as simple and not too critical to anything on the face of it, but in my opinion, it is possibly the most important step in ensuring that the bonds that were created and the bonds that were strengthened as a result of participating in the conference will not be (too) short-lived. And it doesn’t mean people need to talk every day and send god messages and such in order to keep the group alive; it means this is a space where we can go for comfort, can share a link about an activity or initiative, can invite folks to a Twitter chat, can bounce ideas around for input, can raise awareness about social media activity related to our work, can raise awareness about work that’s happening on the ground in our communities, can discuss potential collaborations, and so on and so forth. Not all participants will use the space all the time, and some participants may be more passive than others, but best believe they’re taking notes and the group is impacting their work and life.
  2. I formed a few (well, maybe two) professional friendships, and strengthened a few that needed strengthening. I have already started my usual ideation about how I will engage these persons in my work over the next few months and in some cases years. They don’t know yet, but I have plans for them; I always have plans for people, ask my (professional) friends, they’ll tell you. In my opinion, it is important to action these friendships – the new ones and the strengthened ones – if the conference is going to be meaningful and have the kind of impact I know it should have. Imagine if all, or at least some of the participants actioned all the bonds they formed, however small in number. We could, can, and will do a lot with that. And I see the actioning occurring, and in my opinion, that’s impact.
  3. I see folks on social media sharing stuff, talking about stuff, and making small and huge waves in their work since the conference, and I like that. Because it means the conference is strengthening the regional advocacy movement; it means the conference is strengthening our capacity as women and gender and sexual minorities to lead in a variety of spaces; it means the conference is making our lives as advocates, a little less difficult in the region; and it means the conference is inviting more women to actively participate in advocacy and inspiring those already participating, to keep working.

I could cite lots of other cool ways I believe the conference continues to impact the region, but right now I want to spend a few more paragraphs talking about what I hope to see come St. Croix in 2016.

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Since 2013 United & Strong has been successfully staging the CWSDC. It has been good, they’ve had a great run, and I know the conference can do more, so I have a few considerations for the 2016 staging which I would like to share.

  1. Invite participants from a previous staging to co-facilitate conference sessions. Facilitating is an important part of a lot of the work we do as advocates, artivists, activists. I don’t mean just facilitating training sessions, it includes meetings, making a presentation at a seminar or large conference etc, and I think it is important to build capacity through experiential learning, plus it would demonstrate impact – this year someone was a participant only, next year they can participate and co-facilitate, and maybe in 2017 they can lead.
  2. Allot 5 minutes to each participating organisation to share a SUMMARY of their work and what they regard as their top three most outstanding achievements in the last year, and perhaps their top two recommended best practices. In 90 or so minutes you may be amazed at the wealth of knowledge we can garner, not in an ad hoc, but a structured manner.
  3. Do something similar to what I did with my personal blog space – create a parent page and sub pages on the United & Strong blog and dedicate that space (the parent page and sub pages) to all conference related activities and materials. Over time you can create parent pages for each year going back to 2013. I am certain Simone can find you some volunteers to work on this (inside joke). It is very time consuming, but relatively easy and fun if you have the inclination for that kinda thing. I believe it is important to create this kind of space because you can manipulate the space and do pretty much anything you want to do with it and it doesn’t need to cost money. With such a (permanent) space, you would have provided global and regional audiences with a go-to-place for anything #CWSDC. Your participants, funders, digital onlookers, and pretty much anyone interested in the conference would benefit from this. Furthermore, because it is so easy to connect people to your content via social media, this space may also create interest in the conference.
  4. I think at least half of your participants for 2016 should be young – young in age and/or months/years of involvement in advocacy. I also think at least 2/3 of your full scholarship awardees should be young – in age and/or advocacy work. Why? It’s simple – growth and development of the conference. In my opinion, someone like me, who has not been young in age for some time, and who is no longer young (by my definition) in advocacy work – I passed my two-year mark in September – should not be awarded a full scholarship from the conference committee to attend the conference in 2016 unless they are playing a LEAD facilitator’s role. Everyone knows that funding for conferences can be a serious uphill battle, and even if it is not that difficult for the CWSDC Planning Committee, any money y’all receive, should be largely dedicated to ensuring young people (age and work) are able to participate in the conference, in my opinion. How else will the conference really grow and expand its reach and impact, especially if resources don’t increase? If persons like myself want to participate – because it is an evolving space and there will always be lots to learn – then I think they should pay their way either by stressing out themselves to get independent funding, or applying for partial scholarships, and perhaps using some of their personal resources if (unlike me) they are not very poor.
  5. Include more organised or coordinated entertainment and cultural sharing activities. Mi think supm mus gwaan every night, and every evening! I don’t expect that every participant will attend all scheduled entertainment/cultural activities, but I think something coordinated should be available every evening/night. Yes, with everyone or most participants staying at the same hotel, you may say that there is really no need, people will coordinate if they want. True. But the reality is, the majority won’t, and if they do, they may not do so until after day two or three unless they are already familiar with a good number of the participants. I remember in Curaçao in 2013 there was a number of coordinated events, perhaps because of pride celebrations in that country at the time, and I think it made a difference in how many participants experienced the conference. In addition to that, I was lucky enough to get hitched to what seemed to have been the party crew of the conference, because every night apart from the first night I was out lyming (early night) and partying (late night). I think that is how I ended up forming relationships – a few while in Curaçao and several others upon my return. Or maybe I’m just biased, I don’t know, but it’s my blog, so… But truly, I am imploring the organisers to think about it. Curaçao gave me life, even the coordinated activities alone would have been more than enough for me – the gift exchange was really a lyme, I participated in an LGBT awards ceremony that had live entertainment, there was an all-white party plus after party, we had a beach trip on the final day, plus we went lyming in the night at a really cool place in a part of Curaçao that I can’t quite remember now, where we drank and danced all night. I had an average of two outings per day for each day except the first one, thanks to the conference organisers, the party crew, and the fact that the hotel was 1-3 minutes walk away from a lot of what was ‘gaytastic’ in Curaçao!
  6. Make at least 75% of the sessions participatory beyond the usual discussion. Almost every reflection I’ve read about the #CWSDC2015 mentioned Dr. Gabriel’s game Stepping Up. I remember in Curaçao, it resonated with me more than many sessions… There is a way to make pretty much every session a participatory one, in a cool, fun, and practical way. Yes, I know it’s a conference, not a workshop, but it’s a learning conference, an ideation conference, a teaching conference, not a political conference that is held just (or primarily) for show like many I know. This is not the UN or ILGA, this is the CWSDC. UN and ILGA styles aren’t for teaching and experiential learning, they’re really descriptive in their role – they tell us what is happening where, offer a few broad-brush recommendations, but that’s pretty much it. Those conferences don’t offer practical teaching and learning tools. And they are largely about talking. Maybe 60% talk, 20% act and 20% look fancy. They are necessary and important in the grand scheme of things, but if you use too much of that methodology for the CWSDC, the impact may be lost.
  7. Ask for testimonials (long, short and in-between). They don’t all have to be about the actual conference activities, they can also be about how the conference in specific and/or general ways has impacted a participant’s life and/or work. I remember reading Jherane’s reflection on the #CWSDC2015, for example, and she mentioned the impact of Dr. Angelique’s presentation on how she has now begun to interpret the world around her, and how that has begun to shape how she does her advocacy work; or how she never really thought about the security considerations that must be taken into account as a young LGBT* rights advocate living in the Caribbean region, considerations about which she is now fully aware based on experiences shared by conference participants. Testimonials also allow the rest of us who are not able to attend the conference to vicariously experience those five fulfilling days.

I am looking beyond the #CWSDC2015, and I think I see the vision that Kenita et al have for the CWSDC, and I believe in it…

As always, with pretty much every initiative in life, there is room for improvement, and I am confident 2016 will be an improved version of 2015.

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Before I go, let me congratulate the conference committee on a job well done to date, and to United & Strong for blazing the trail. Good job U&S! And big up Maria Fontenelle – one of the organisers whose role and work sometimes go unnoticed.

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Now let me go hunt some funds for #CWSCD2016! I’m about that ‘anywhere you are in St. Croix a beach is 15 minutes away’ life. I’m about spending a week at a hotel owned by a lesbian couple, yep! I’m about that life, and the work too, lol!

 —Latoya Nugent