After attending the LGBT-advocacy conference Generation Equality a year ago, Jon Henry, ’12, felt newly empowered to increase campus awareness of LGBT issues at Richmond. He immediately united with other students to revitalize the University’s chapter of Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity (SASD). Now the president of the alliance, Henry has helped to more than triple the group's membership over the past six months.

This past weekend marked the climax of a major SASD project: hosting this year’s statewide Generation Equality conference on Richmond’s campus. Henry spearheaded all aspects of planning the conference on “Empowering Queer Activism and Leadership,” which attracted nearly 100 attendees representing public and private colleges throughout Virginia.

Goals of the conference included teaching participants how to increase exposure and influence on their campuses, as well as providing tools to achieve campus policy changes and inclusivity. “We decided to focus more on leadership and community building,” Henry said.

In a welcome letter to conference attendees, Henry credited the presence of the University’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies with creating a campus environment that fosters changes through leadership. “We believe this exposure to leadership studies provides ample resources to develop educational workshops for this conference,” he wrote.

Culling through the networks of the University’s Office of Common Ground and its Community Board for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and of sponsor Equality Virginia, Henry recruited facilitators for workshops such as “Becoming an Ally” and “LGBT Health.”

Keynote speaker Candace Gingrich, associate director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth and Campus Outreach program, spoke about the new ways that this generation of college students are politically engaged. "She stressed how there are various types of activism [beyond] protests and lobbying," Henry said. "Just engaging in conversation and being out about your identity can be the most beneficial."

To ensure conversation and collaboration between representatives of different institutions, participants were randomly divided into groups for activist workshops. “We want people to really develop a strong network of activists from across the state,” Henry said. The schedule also included leisure time on the soccer field and in the game room.

Thanks to a grant from the Office of Common Ground, conference registration fees were waived for all Richmond students. “We wanted UR students to be able to attend because [SASD] really promotes educational opportunities as part of our activism,” Henry said.

Henry thinks the positive energy from activists around the state will make a statement to LGBT students and employees at Richmond. “A statewide conference should really empower the on-campus queer community,” he said.

Though focused specifically on queer advocacy and political action, the themes of the conference resonated with other movements on campus. Following the debut of the UR Organizing Project by just a few weeks, SASD found that interest was high among other groups on campus, as well as “general activists who want to expand their knowledge,” he said.