Eastern Kentucky University made Kentucky history last weekend by putting on one of the first mental health seminars focused primarily on the LGBT community. On May 3 and 4, EKU hosted the first annual LGBT Mental Healthcare Conference in the New Science Building.
The event was organized by the Department of Psychology and consisted of research workshops, guest speakers, and events such as screening the film “the S-word”, a movie focused on issues surrounding suicide.
The Department of Psychology also put on a program alongside the conference called Artvention in the New Science building at the same time. The Artvention program’s purpose is suicide prevention through art and creative expression.
The entire convention was organized and run by students in the doctor of psychology ,Psy.D., program.
“It is a student-led program, so all of us who put it together are students. We had almost no help at all from faculty. We had faculty approval and blessing to do so, but all of us here are students,” said Clinton Nowicke, a 29-year-old from Louisville and a fifth year in the Psy.D. program.
Nowicke was one of the main organizers of the convention and emphasized the importance of such a program.
“It’s the first multi-day conference that focuses on the general LGBT population,” Nowicke said. “We’ve had some other ones in Kentucky that were kind of specific to like LGBT people of color. This is kind of general — a little more broad.”
Nowicke said that although there has been some research on LGBT mental health in the area, there have been no other big events like this conference in the state of Kentucky.
“Not in the research that I could dig up. If it existed, I couldn’t find it,” Nowicke said.
Another student in the Psy.D. program and conference organizer, Brooke Maupin, a 24-year-old from Sandy Gap, also talked about the importance of events like this one, especially in more isolated areas.
“We’re in a typically rural place for rural students, so the ability and outreach for those areas in particular is bad, not just with the LGBT individuals, but with all individuals,” Maupin said. “Considering that they are usually the last population to get any attention in those areas doesn’t help, so this is kind of the place to do it for most of the surrounding counties, and I think that bringing more awareness to that is important.”
Nowicke agreed and said that programming like this is important to have on college campuses.
“EKU specifically because we are in a traditionally conservative area and we know some of the mental health disparities that LGBT people face. A lot of it is due to isolationism and bullying; being told that you don’t exist, that you are a terrible sinner and all these things,” Nowicke said. “Especially for this region that a lot of our students come from, typically a kind of lower socioeconomic status and things like that. It’s important because we care and we want to show other students on campus that this is a topic that we care about.”
Nowicke also talked about some of the speakers and events that were going on during the conference.
“We have a reverend coming tomorrow who is giving a talk on religious spiritualism and things like that, we have someone speaking about Latino families — we have a pretty wide variety of topics, and so the goal is to bring in as many people as possible from different groups and majors and professional areas to kind of hit everything at once. And hopefully, what people take away from it is that there are little things we can do and it seems like it’s a big, daunting task, but you know, we can do what we can even from our small little corners of the mental health world,” Nowicke said.
While the conference was successful, Nowicke expressed his desire that more people attend in the future and get the word out on issues surrounding the LGBT community. “We had about 40 people registered, which isn’t bad for a first time.”
The conference was not only open to EKU students and the Richmond community, but to anyone who was interested. The Psy.D. program sent invitations for the conference as far as California.
“We have a couple people from New York, someone who I don’t think is from England, but I think they go to school in England … we have social workers, counselors, psychologists; we do have some EKU students who came. We have a little bit of everything and everybody,” Nowicke said.
Ultimately, the goal of the conference was to talk about heavy topics facing the LGBT community, but compliment the event with some lighter activities like a derby party.
“Awareness, inclusion, a place to come and learn that’s more safe and a place to also meet people who are allies,” were the purposes of the conference, Maupin said.
Nowicke said he hopes the conference will grow much larger in the future and become a yearly event.