TCU students at the 2011 conference

After last year’s well-received LGBT Leadership Conference on the TCU campus in Fort Worth that focused on empowering LGBT youth after several suicides in the fall of 2010, this year’s conference will continue the inspiring message of the “It Gets Better” campaign.

But instead of inviting only Texas schools like SMU and UTA, this year will have a regional focus with the Southwestern Association of Gay-Straight Alliances, an organization that grew out of the success of last year’s conference, said Jamal King, treasurer and historian of the TCU gay-straight alliance.

Schools like Kansas State and Arizona State universities will join local schools, and the turnout is expected to be similar to last year’s event, which brought in 75 students from about nine colleges, King said. After the word about a large conference in Texas spread, he said other schools wanted to participate, leading to the creation of the regional organization.

King was the mastermind behind the first conference and served as co-director for the event this year, which will once again bring several LGBT organizations like PFLAG, Q Cinema and the AIDS Outreach Center together to discuss issues affecting the community.

Last year’s highlight was a presentation from the Trevor Project, but this year the keynote address will come from Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride, a nonprofit that helps students establish safe campuses for students.

Windmeyer was an obvious choice for the conference, King said, because his organization portrays acceptance on campuses nationwide, something that became a focus this year with the regional college attendance.

“We were looking for someone who had a lot of experience with the issue of LGBT suicide on a larger scale and working with Campus Pride is a much larger scale on a national level,” King said. “We’re going bigger and so is our scope.”

The conference is March 1-3, with a game night Thursday, followed by the keynote address and breakout sessions Friday and service projects and closing ceremony Saturday.

Although the service projects have not yet been determined, King said attendees will be able to choose one of a three projects to participate in on Saturday, such as a food drive or writing letters to soldiers affected by “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Because the conference is focused on improving the community, he said working with an organization in the surrounding community was a great way to begin.

“The entire focus of the conference is it gets better if you make it better,” he said. “The unofficial tagline is it gets better if you get it together.”

The closing ceremony will also bring a video diary together that conference participants have worked on throughout the event, King said. Participants will be encouraged to share their own message of how things have gotten better for them over the years or to share what things are like for them as an LGBT student at their campus.

“The idea is that we get bigger and better,” King said. ”Hopefully we’ll be the big gay conference in our region.”

Early registration for the 2012 Southwestern LGBT Leadership Conference is $40 for the entire conference and ends Friday, Feb. 24. The registration fee then increases to $50 until the day of the event. Attendance can also be bought for individual days at $25 a day.

For more information or to register, visit the SWAGSA website or the event’s Facebook page.