AUSTIN — GetEQUAL Texas will host its third annual Harvey Milk Day Conference from May 24-27, an event dedicated to empowering citizens on how to “take bold action and demand full civil equality in their local communities.”
The conference’s agenda includes a pre-conference celebration at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex and an open air rock/folk concert at Rusty’s bar. The conference itself — at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus — will feature workshop sessions including topics such as homelessness and bi-phobia within the gay community, why queers should consider moving their funds from big banks into local credit unions, and a large group non-violence civil disobedience training.
The weekend will also include a staged reading of Dear Harvey — a play which commemorates the assassinated civil rights leader through interviews with his colleagues, archival materials, and words his own speeches and diaries — and conclude with a Sunday evening protest march to the state Capitol.
GetEQUAL’s Texas state coordinator Michael Diviesti began working with the organization three years ago when he witnessed group members chaining themselves to the White House fence to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As a former military service member who suffered under the gay military ban, Diviesti decided to join the group’s first Harvey Milk Day march on the Texas Capitol.
“That’s when I learned that even I, as humble and small as I am as one person, can really join this movement to push for full equality in all matters governed by civil law,” Diviesti said.
Diviesti helped coordinate the conference the following year and says that because attendees come in from all across Texas and the U.S., GetEQUAL has prepared to accommodate more than 600 people, more than double the number of 2011 attendees.
Though the conference provides meals and training materials for all participants, their suggested $25 attendance fee remains optional.
“[Activists who participate in non-violent civil disobedience] tend to be more often than not lower middle class or lower. There are a lot of homeless youth who are itching to do something to maintain rights for themselves but they don’t have those tools,” Diviesti said. “We see a lot of these events that are hundreds and sometimes a thousand dollars. … I’m not knocking those events. But for our community, we need events like this to where everyone is welcome regardless of economic ability.”
GetEQUAL North Texas coordinator and conference presenter Daniel Cates added that the conference also gives attendees in both large and small towns a chance to form a larger activist network. For example, when GetEQUAL staged an Oct. 15 protest by requesting same-sex marriage licenses at the Dallas County clerk’s office, activists in nine other Texas cities held similar actions on the same day.
“Any time something [LGBT-related] happens here in the state or even nationally [they] can pick up the phone and reach other activists in Brownsville, in Austin, San Antonio, McAllen, College Station, and we in the state can decide to take coordinated action,” Cates said. “That’s something really missing in Texas before.”
Anyone interested in attending can still register at getequaltx.org.