We take a bite out of student conference planning with Lulu, Daleelah and Abby, three student leaders from Ohio who’ve dedicated ample time to planning the 30th annual Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference. We kick off season three talking about the process of coordinating the largest and oldest continuously-held conference for queer and trans+ college students and young adults, what attendees can expect at MBLGTACC 2022, and what the students have learned about themselves by coordinating on this project.
Creators & Guests
What is Take the Last Bite?
Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.
For questions, comments and feedback: email@example.com
To support this podcast and the Institute, please visit sgdinstitute.org/giving
Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity
Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick
Hey, hi, hello, y’all, my name is R.B. and you have stumbled upon Take the Last Bite, a show where we lay Midwest Nice out on the table and then flip that table to make room for limitless possibilities as modeled by Midwest queer and trans communities.
This summer feels like it went by so quickly and at the same time so much has happened in the three months since we wrapped up season two. Reproductive justice and student loan forgiveness have been major national issues, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and then the Biden administration announcing it’s gonna make a little dent in folks’ student loan burdens.
Within the Midwest, there’s been a series of developments and wins– for example, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ+ people cannot be fired or evicted based on their gender/sexuality–
and there’s also been some huge letdowns– such as the high school newspaper in Nebraska that was shut down after student journalists featured pieces about the history of Pride. If you wanna hear more about these and other LGBTQ+ Midwest moments, I’ve been collecting and discussing news items such as these in our newly launched TikTok, so give us a follow @Take.The.Last.Bite
This is our third season of Take the Last Bite and it coincides with three other very important seasons: spooky season, MBLGTACC season, and election season. All three of these will surely be worked into upcoming episodes, and we have some stellar guests and topics lined up to aid us in bringing long due attention to the amazing efforts of Midwest queer and trans folks.
Today’s episode is a nod to where it all began– the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference– MBLGTACC for the necessary short. Without this annual event, there would be no Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity and there would be no Take the Last Bite podcast. The founding members of the Institute were once doe-eyed little queerlings in college and got roped into planning the largest regional LGBTQ+ college conference in the country. Our affinity for this mesmerizing space and the devout commitment we made to planning our respective conferences evolved into starting the Institute. And one of the key roles of our organization is honoring the integrity of a conference planned for students by students.
The 30th annual MBLGTACC will be hosted one month from the publishing of this episode in Columbus Ohio. Each decision about speakers, workshops, content and messaging has been mindfully made by a group of Midwest college students who have dedicated their time and energy into curating this year’s conference. And I got on the mic with three of the student planners to reflect on the planning process, share some of what attendees can look forward to, and dream about what the impacts of this year’s conference will mean for our collective futures.
It is my absolute pleasure to introduce y'all to these incredible student leaders… on this episode of Take the Last Bite.
[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]
Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?
When it comes to dynamics around privilege and oppression, and around identity. Well intentioned isn’t actually good enough.
How far is too far to drive for a drag show? I don’t know, we’re in Duluth right now, I would straight up go to Nebraska, probably,
If you are not vibing, or something’s not right, or also like there’s an irreparable rupture, you have absolutely every right to walk away.
Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.
Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.
Alright, fam, we're going to go ahead and get started. So I'm really stoked to be hanging out here with you all. We are, I think, exactly 56 days away from the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Asexual College conference. There's a series of faces I'm receiving in this moment to that news, 56 days when we're having this conversation. By the time this episode publishes, I think it'll be a square month away from conference weekend.
So let's go ahead and do a quick round of introductions. Whoever would like to go first? If you just want to do a quick intro of who you are and also share what your relationship is to the Midwest.
Yeah, I can go first. Hi. My name is Daleelah. My pronouns are she/they and I am a third year Ohio State student studying anthropology. So I guess that's my relationship to the Midwest. I'm from Ohio.
My name is Lulu. My pronouns are they/them. I'm a fourth year studying social work with a minor in leadership studies and I'm from Akron. I always rep LeBron. I'm wearing my I promise gear right now. But that's my relationship to the Midwest.
And I'm Abby, I am a second year high state student studying Earth science. And yeah, I've lived in Ohio my entire life, grew up in Cleveland, now live in Columbus partially. So I'd say that's my relationship to the Midwest. Also pronouns are she/they, just realized I forgot those.
So we are gathered here today, no, so we're going to chat about this planning process. Right? So you all are Midwest college students who by one way or another came into the student planning process. So every year that the conference is hosted, behind the scenes is the work and labor and commitment of Midwest queer and trans college students. And you all are sampling of the larger team of folks who have been putting in so much work for the better part of 18 months to make the magic of MBLGTACC happen this year, which is going to be in Columbus, Ohio.
And so let's take a trip back to some of our earliest conversations before we made a whole lot of programming decisions, right? We were thinking about the theme and in fact, the theme was probably brainstormed well before any of us even came into relationship with each other through the bid process where I think, Lulu, maybe you were probably one of the only ones around for that bid process, probably, in thinking about what would it mean to even bring the conference to Columbus, Ohio. And we've done a bit of tweaking and redrafting since then to identify the theme and have some really rad conversations about why this theme and why now and what does that mean in this moment for this coming conference. So does someone want to kick us off talking about the theme and how we landed on that?
Yeah, of course I can take this off. It's actually funny just to like think back on the process just because two of my friends who were very influential and were part of the bid process, are not currently part of the planning team, but without their work, they would not be Ohio State or, like, students talking about this right now and being together in this call with you all right now. But I remember we were talking about a theme. We're scrambling. We were like, oh, my gosh, we got to make this pop out, making sure that it represents what we want to focus on in this conference. But also we want to give a tribute to the fact that it's like the 30th anniversary for MBLGTACC.
And actually, from what I remember is that the name was way longer than what it is now. So I'm glad that we were able to edit it out and kind of make it more, easier to say. When we talk about limitless in that group of four students my first year, a lot of us, or at least I can personally talk about myself, is that, like, we're navigating this college scene where we're afforded the chance to express ourselves in a way that we might have not been able to at home. I know personally from a family where only one person knows I'm out. And it's very restrictive because I thought of her as someone who I could go to. But here at Ohio State, here in the Midwest, away from where I grew up from, it's almost like those options became limitless because I was able to branch out what I knew and self explore my identities and also talk to people who have been through similar issues and just thrive as a person. So that's definitely just a little context of that.
Lulu, I love the way you brought that together. Like, that was so beautifully spoken, and I applaud you just for putting all that into words. For me, I feel like when I kind of think of the theme, especially when at the time where we were kind of brainstorming, like, what it would be, someone kind of brought up the fact that I think it was mostly all of us, how there's so many anti LGBTQ+ laws going on, like, right now. And even then during the time when we were brainstorming. And of course, one thing that came up was activism. How can we combat against these laws that are telling us, oh, we shouldn't exist or we shouldn't be here? So I think more than anything, it's kind of like us taking back, I don't really know how to word it, but us kind of reclaiming our space and telling people we're here, basically, and we're queer and this is our space and we're activists, and we're going to keep on standing up to people who are biased and who are bigots and so on and so forth.
I feel like the naming process was one of the first things I remember doing when I came on. I think they were the proposals for the names, and we voted on them, maybe the first or second meeting. And, yeah, it was a big part of it was just the state of the world today and how the world treats and the U.S. and the Midwest treat LGBTQ people and how there's so much progress to be made in that area and how queer students are so ready to fight that fight. And it's so important to address that now and, you know, come together as a community.
I think. Lulu, you named right, that like the theme of limitless queer activism of the future. There can't be, like, a queer active activism in the future without kind of acknowledging the queer activism of the past. And so in many ways, by doing this work for y’all’s respective conference, we're kind of doing this nod to 30 years of labor and work of Midwest queer and trans communities and then also saying in this exact moment, looking at the next 30 or the next 60 or the next hundred right. Whatever our sampling of time is to say. Like. In this moment. Like. What is next?
And I also think there's this additional opportunity that has come up quite a few times with y'all because we're going to Columbus, which is a capital city, where there's kind of this additional layer of political and lobbying energy. And it's an epicenter of certain types of political energy that we've definitely brought up and thought about in thinking about the content and who to showcase and what conversations are going to show up at the conference.
Which I think is a great way to segue into what is some of the content that we're excited about. So y’all, very gracefully and very committedly, went through the workshop review process and read 60 some odd proposals that were just incredible, and we made some hard decisions, and we have a whole slate of workshops that have been selected. And so what for you through that workshop review process and what you know is upcoming at the conference weekend or some of the conversations or topics that you're really excited that folks are going to get to engage with or that just is even existing, like, in this moment that there are conversations like that happening. What are you excited about?
I immediately know this is very personal, like, selfish reasons for me, but there are so many good lesbian workshops coming up. I was reading all the descriptions. They were so good. I'm so excited to go to as many as I can. Oh, my gosh. And there's a lot of discussion online and in queer online spaces about lesbianism. But I think it's so important to have lesbian spaces because it's for me and I think for so many other people, it's such a unique identity and just living, it's amazing. I'm so excited for the lesbian workshops. I'm also excited for the Asexual workshops. I feel like we have quite a few of those as well. And I think that's also an area in the queer community that can sometimes be underrepresented in some spaces. So I'm excited to bring that to the forefront as well.
I definitely agree with Abby. There are lots of workshops like the ones, there was a couple of Ace workshops that I know we all are very, very excited for, but the ones that stood out to me were more so focused on being LGBTQ+ and still having, like, body positivity at the forefront of your identity as well. It was very much intersectional, which I appreciate because a lot of the workshops, not saying that they weren't, but there was some that only focus on one specific thing, whereas there was other that was like, oh, I'm POC and I'm also LGBTQ+. I'm looking forward to seeing workshops that are very much focused on intersectionality, which is always fun and always important, especially within our community. I think a lot of the times people forget that intersectionality exists everywhere, even in the queer community.
I know for me, I know just the general tracks of creating change on college campuses, but also, like, activism, just as a whole, have always sparked my interest, just because I know there's a lot of us who don't know where to start. But there's many people who are, like, older or have more experience, who can talk about their own experiences in their own colleges or their own spaces in nonprofits or other spaces where they're, like, taking the lead. It's like, this works for me. So here is, like, my advice, but also let's talk about how you can take care of yourself, because burnout is, like, very, very common, especially, I think, in college. You know, you're talking to institutions who might not have the best intentions in terms of what you're bringing forth, like, the issues that you're seeing for your own community and just kind of diminish it just to, like, stocking, and financial issues that you're like, Wait, this is not my job. I'm just telling you the experiences that I have as a student for you to take action because this is your job to take over.
I actually remember going to one, like my first year. She's like, oh. She was like, y'all for real. I'm taking notes on my notepad, ready to go back to my friends and be like, okay, this is, like, what we can do, because someone already has done it in another college or another space. And I feel great about knowing that it takes time, but there is stuff that you can do within your own capacity.
Can I just say, I think I've had the most fun collaborating with you guys in the workshop, especially with finding out which track this workshop belongs to or this workshop. It was just so much fun to be able to talk about why I felt this workshop needed to be in the conference or maybe why this one shouldn't necessarily be in the conference, which is, of course valid, but it was just so much fun being able to hear everyone's ideas and again, collaborate and get feedback.
It just dawned on me that I don't think all of you have even attended this conference that you are currently planning. Right. Abby and Daleelah, you have not attended. Right. And Lulu, you have, but did you attend in person?
Yeah, I attended in person, in 2020, and then I came virtually last year.
So in many ways, right, for Abby and Delilah, you're kind of like, conceptualizing something that you have not witnessed on your own. And so in thinking about some of the content that you've already named, you're excited about what we already know about the workshops that are going to be coming to the conference. One of the things that the Institute has received feedback on and something that I, as someone who, like, planned and attended this conference for years as a college student knows, is that there's something very pivotal, there's something very big about students being able to share space with other students across certain similarities, right? Whether it's the identity forums that we plan where folks of alike identities come together just to hang out and chat and do whatever they want with that space, or some of these structured workshops with specific content, there's a big deal component to that and we get feedback about that year after year. And then, just on a broader scale, the experience of coming to MBLGTACC and being surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of other queer and trans people, right.
We call it the magic of MBLGTACC for a reason, in that it's not really what our daily life looks like. So we kind of get the sampling for a weekend of what would it look like if our daily life was just inherently saturated with queer people? And that's all we really got to interact with. And it's both amazing and sometimes a little disheartening because you kind of have this moment when you go home of like, oh, this is the crash and burn moment where I'm reminded that there's cishet people in the world and this isn't what I wanted. And so I guess to make a question out of this little monologue. Right. I'm curious for y’all, one of y’all having attended this conference. But two of you all having not attended this conference is kind of what is missing from your college and community spaces that you think MBLGTACC can satisfy that can then be broadened and scaled up and expanded to show queer and trans people, especially queer and trans young people, that you don't have to accept scraps, right. That there's so much more we can build. What do you think of the conference is kind of a model for that and what is missing or just not serving in some of the spaces that you're in?
I think one thing that is definitely missing from at least my on campus center that focuses on students is definitely resources specifically geared towards LGBTQ+ students, because a lot of times we don't have that, especially resources that are geared towards LGBTQ+ students of color. And to be able to have this at the conference, it makes me so appreciative, especially because growing up, I didn't have that at all. I didn't have that at all. And it's sad to say, like, oh, I'm not getting this until college. And don't ever think that I'm not grateful, because I'm 100% grateful. But I think there's so many other things that this conference is going to offer me and so many other students that I'm just so grateful for, and I'm just so happy just to be a part of it, just to be planning it.
Daleelah, that's such a great answer. So well put. I do have to say this is only my second year of college, but even so, I felt my first year, I was very lacking the community, just generally of queer people. Obviously, queer people in college have a way of finding each other, in general. In college, it's a lot easier to be more open about it and just, like, meet other queer people. But the formal events that were put on, like, I just remember going to one at the beginning of the year, and it was like it got way too loud in there. I was very overwhelmed. And then it was like, the only social event I felt like that I saw for the queer community. And also, everyone there already knew each other. So I was like, okay, well, what am I supposed to do here? And obviously, I made quick friends throughout college, and I do feel some sort of sense of community. But having a place like the conference where it's just, you know, you're going there and you're going to find at least one person like, you not of course, there's going to be many more than just one. So it's just like the guarantee of a place where you can just meet and be yourself and have fun, too, like, in some spaces. I feel like when I keep an eye on the queer events happening, a lot of them are like, discussions and roundtables. And while those things are very important, sometimes you just want to have fun night with some queer people. You just want to meet and talk and not worry about anything formal. So just like, the community, I'm excited to experience that for the first time. And just being there with all these queer people, I can't wait.
Yeah, no. I think that whole. Like. Last part of what Abby said. It was. Like. So spot on because, yes, there's so many discussions. And sometimes it's almost like they're making this to have people who are not part of the community sit in the back. Not saying this happens. But it's almost like they have it set for people to sit in the back just to learn from our experiences and it's just like. Bro. No. Sometimes I just want to have people who are part of the community and we can just share joy together. And I feel like that's a good part about the conference because you're meeting people from all different places. And as an introvert. I get very scared to approach people who I don't know. But I feel like at the conference. I was. Like. Approaching people like. Hey. I love your outfit. And be able to exchange socials very easily. At least in a more conducive manner than events that are on campus oftentimes.
I think what's a huge bummer to me sometimes, and me and the Institute team, the glorified adults, if you will, on this end of things, who did our conference planning years in the mid aughts, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 15 years. It was a struggle in some ways based on the relationship that LGBTQ students had with their university or what types of support we could be guaranteed or where some of the funding might come from. And I think what's tricky is that in some ways, in a lot of ways, higher education and institutions of higher learning, pinky out, have definitely expanded. There's more LGBTQ centers than ever before. There's more pro staff in many ways, there's more money and funding, but there's still a lot of politics and there's still a lot of mess. And I think that there's still this, like, one size fits all approach to assuming that what supports one LGBTQ college student would necessarily offer the same support to the next student. And that's not true, and we know that
I think something that, for me, is someone who has brought college students to the conference, who has been a student attending the conference, who has this role where I'm working with you all as a collaboration to make these conferences happen. MBLGTACC is kind of like the possibility model for what educational spaces could look like if we completely turn the reins over to queer and trans people, to orchestrate their own spaces and their own learning and prioritize what is important to them. You're not learning about kink in college in the way that you're going to learn about it at MBLGTACC. You're not going to learn about, what's that one, the defying hierarchies and relationships. Like, you're not having that conversation in your lecture hall, not really. So there's just some really transformative topics and just, like, experiences, but you can't even really plan at MBLGTACC. I'll just kind of disclaim that to the two of you who haven't gone yet.
But just like, there's a principle of emergent strategy from adrienne maree brown, because I'm a big old adrienne maree brown nerd that talks about how there's a conversation in the room that only the people in it can have and you're supposed to find it. And I feel like MBLGTACC is just a giant room where there's just kind of an experience that only the folks in that conference weekend can have, and they're going to find it. And you all are here as just folks who are making really informed decisions as students, creating a space for students. And you all have just been really intentional and caring and thoughtful about the decisions that have been made and the voices that are being invited. And this is what we call crunch time, right?
We've got 56 glorious days left until we are ushering in, ideally hundreds of thousands of students into the Columbus Convention Center for this space. And I'm really excited to see you all just kind of like, relish in the rewards of your labor because I know this work is hard on top of being a college student. So I'm really curious for you all since you're kind of at the tail end of this process. It doesn't seem like it feels like we just met for the first time not that long ago, and now here we are. What has been some discoveries you've made either about yourself or about the concept of community or about the concept of creating these types of space? What have you learned through this process that you're going to hang on to for a long time?
Now I'm laughing because it's just like, oh, my gosh, I need to have this profound answer. But honestly, I think it's just the whole idea of the difference between accomplishing things because of productivity and meeting deadlines slowly versus meeting accomplishments as a team, because we're very excited about what we want to develop together, is so dynamic, because I think so much of what I've done as a queer leader at school has been this side of like, I'm not having fun. Whereas here in MBLGTACC with the planning team, it's fun. I want to make sure I show up to all the meetings. Sometimes I can't if something comes up or I'm like, I'm so sorry I wasn't able to deliver with the specific task item. But it's okay. We all have each other, we lead on each other. But what makes it fun is that we're excited about what can come out of it. And it's just like, with the students but also with the Institute, we're like, all very excited to see everyone and finally get to experience it in person here in Columbus. I think that's, like, the thing that just brings me so much joy and it's like almost like, okay, so once the conference is over, how can I bring more of this energy and the spaces I'm around at work? You know what I'm going to say I want more of this.
Lulu, I couldn't agree with you more. Like, ever since jumping into planning this conference, I realized that I really enjoy collaborating. And it was crazy. As before my first two years in college, I've always hated, like, working with people because I would be the only one doing all the work and everyone else just would be, like, chewing on the side. And I was the one that was always pointing the weight. But here, at least for this planning committee and for the other committees, everyone is doing something. Everyone is pulling work. Everyone is checking in on everyone, which is something I appreciate, like 1000%. Every meeting we would have these check ins where everyone would say, like, they're high and they're low, which meant so much to me, like, each and every single meeting. I appreciate that so much. And I don't know, collaborating now for me is just something I will say, like, I enjoy so much, especially collaborating with you guys. Honestly, it's been a blast. Like a huge blast.
Echoing what you two said. Collaborating when you're passionate about something is such a different experience than just doing it because you have to be in a team where everyone cares about each other. Like Daleelah was saying, it's just so nice. I remember texting Lulu and I was like, I feel like I'm not pulling my weight. And they were like, don't worry, I don't want anyone to feel like that. They're so nice about it. And in a second, all of my instances, doubts about not doing enough, we're completely reassured. And so it's just so nice to work in a team. And I kind of realized that I don't have to be like a certain type of person to care about queer activism or do activism or do something like this. I think in the first few meetings, I was very like, oh, everyone else here is like, I don't know, a queer study type of person or is more involved in the queer community. Maybe like, I'm just an earth science major. What the heck am I going to do? But it was like, no, just being queer and caring about this is enough to make a good make a good, what's the word I'm looking for? Efforts. Not the right one, of course. My mind blanks right now when I'm in the middle of a very profound answer. But yeah, just participating and contributing a very big contribution is enough. As long as you're passionate about it.
You'll are warming my little gay heart right now. I also love that we're basically going to give you documentation of this moment in time for you to look back on later when you're thinking about the conference and we're past it and you're in that, like, I call it grieving. When my conference was over, I grieved for three weeks. I was just like, what am I supposed to do with my life now? So we'll prep you for that moment too, trust. Because it's a whole thing. You're like, I just dedicated so much of my life. Every waking moment was dedicated to this conference. We'll get you there. There's some letting go that has to happen. So now we've got a documented record of your current thoughts about how this conference has shaped you and what it has done for you.
And I appreciate hearing that this process has offered these things to you because the Institute has only been around for a fraction of the conference's existence. When some of us on the Institute team planned this conference, we didn't have the Institute to kind of guide us through any of this or facilitate these conversations and support you all through making decisions. And it was a different vibe. It was a different thing.
So we're still kind of working it out and figuring out what works and how to best collaborate with students to make sure that you don't take on a bunch of risk and liability. But that you also get to make your own decisions about how you want to commit your time and what you want to participate in and not have other glorified adults tell you you can't do that. So, I don't have tactful way to wrap us up here. I guess just if you really had to capture it, if you could capture it in one tag line, what do you think is going to kind of be the big takeaway from this year's conference for anybody, right? Maybe it's you. Maybe it's someone you have yet to meet. What do you think is going to be one of the biggest takeaways of this year's conference before we close it up today?
Personally, I think the biggest takeaway is 1000% going to be support, especially for queer students who don't normally get support at home or at school. So for them to go out to this conference full of queer and trans people, I feel like it's going to be very supportive and very much yeah, just supportive. And of course it's going to be supportive with the resources as well and the workshops and everything else.
I guess for me, it's like find empowerment in whatever little pockets that you are surrounded with already. Because honestly. For me that was tapped into mentorship. Again. Referencing our dear Ose from when they were at Ohio State. I would not have been exposed to this conference to memble tech as a whole. But they were kind of like my little light before I even met this community in a way that I was like. Oh my gosh. I want to be surrounded more about more with this space and energy and be able to share my joy. So again, with this conference, I feel like that's like not a little pocket of joy, but that's a big pocket of joy. So in whatever spaces that you're in, if you can put yourself out there and make a little connection, grab coffee with whoever is available to get coffee with you. It doesn't even have to be coffee. It can be anything that you'd like to that you're interested in and willing to take part of, but yeah, definitely make connections because from that can make conversations and just be able to relate or find a way to better express yourself, which I definitely know that has been a big part of my development and my identity.
I mean, taking a word from our theme, I just want everyone to come away from this conference knowing that they are limitless as a queer individual. They are limitless with the empowerment that we Lose was talking about and the support that we were talking about. Truly, you can do anything.
You all are absolute gems this past hour, the past year and some change have really just been super rewarding working with you all. Last year's planning team still had the heaviest weight of COVID on them. And not to say we're out of the pandemic by any means, but, like, you all have had kind of a different go. And I think being able to offer this space in October when there's a bit more ability for folks to come together with a bit less stress and come together in a way that I think is going to feel renewed and refreshing and necessary, like, I think we're full steam ahead to have just a really excellent weekend. And I just cannot name enough appreciation for you all taking this time and making this commitment on top of a pandemic and an insurrection and just a riot's galore and just, like, living your life. There's a whole list. But this has been great. You all are great. It's so thank you for carving some extra time to have this chat so that other folks can learn about this process and what's kind of behind the scenes of the conference. So thank you.
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Our inbox is open for all of your insight, feedback, questions, boycotts, memes and other forms of written correspondence. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This podcast is made possible by the labor and commitment of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity staff. Particular shout out to Justin, Andy and Nick for all of your support with editing, promotion and production. Our amazing and queer as fuck cover art was designed by Adrienne McCormick.