Academics and activists to explore common ground at Vanderbilt during Gender, Sexuality & Political Action conference

Nashville, Tenn.–Issues involving gender and sexuality will be examined at a conference at Vanderbilt University aimed at bringing front-line activists and top theorists together.

The Gender, Sexuality and Political Action Conference, organized by the 2002-03 fellows of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt, will be held Friday, Oct. 31, and Saturday, Nov. 1, in Room 134 of Featheringill Hall at Vanderbilt.

"This is a way to improve both sides of the conversation," said John M. Sloop, an associate professor of communication studies at Vanderbilt. "For our part, we’re looking to find ways that our critical work can be translated into community activism."

The two-hour program on Friday begins at 3 p.m. and focuses on Nashville. Saturday’s program runs from 10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and takes a broader view.

"One of the presentations on Friday will be on the Magdalene Project, a residential recovery program for women with history of prostitution and drug abuse," said Mona Frederick, executive director of the Warren Center. "The program was founded by Reverend Becca Stephens, chaplain of St. Augustine’s at Vanderbilt."

The program helps women learn to live their lives free of drugs and prostitution.

"Our society often sits in harsh judgment regarding women who are or have been sex workers. Magdalene helps them to achieve legal employment at a living wage. The living wage issue will also be one of the topics addressed at the conference on Saturday," Frederick said.

Three other prominent activists will appear at the panel discussion on Friday:

–Victor Anderson, associate professor of Christian ethics at Vanderbilt, representing Brothers United, a program that provides HIV-prevention education to gay and bisexual men of color, and promotes empowerment and community building.

–Pamela DeGroff, spokeswoman and newsletter editor for Tennessee Vals, a support group for transgendered people.

–Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville attorney specializing in family law, sexual orientation and AIDS-related issues. Rubenfeld argued the case that resulted in the repeal of Tennessee’s law against sodomy in 1996

There will be three events on Saturday, beginning with a panel discussion on "Sex, Gender and Activism: The National Scene."

Panelists will be Monica J. Casper, a medical sociologist, biomedical ethicist and executive director of the Seattle-based intersex Society of North America; Emi Koyama, a social justice activist from Portland, Ore.; and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, author of Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression.

A second panel, "Gender, Power and the Living Wage," will feature two speakers from Connecticut. The Rev. Lillian Daniel and the Rev. Scott Marks are both involved with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the economic and social welfare of working families in the state.

The final event will be a lecture by Minnie Bruce Pratt, titled "The Dirt We Eat: The Unfinished Struggle for Women’s Liberation." Pratt teaches women’s studies, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered studies and creative writing at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

"Minnie Bruce Pratt was denied custody of her children due to her sexual orientation, and she wrote a moving account of this experience in a series of poems entitled Crimes Against Nature in 1989," Frederick said. "Gay men and lesbians are finding more protection in the courts today on issues such as child custody due to increased understanding of issues related to gender and sexuality."

For more information about the conference, contact the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at or 615-343-6060.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS,

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