Last fall my colleague Leigh Stein and I cofounded Out of the Binders, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating and providing professional development services for women and gender-nonconfoming writers. At the core of our project is a semi-annual professional development conference, BinderCon, which offers attendees access to a wide variety of panels, workshops, and networking opportunities all geared to help them get ahead in their writing careers.
From the very beginning of this project, Leigh and I knew that diversity was an important component of what we were trying to accomplish. If we put together a conference that solely featured the voices of white cisgender women, with only a few token women of color or queer voices, we would have considered that a failure. Leigh and I wanted to have a conference where all kinds of women and gender-nonconforming writers — from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as ages sexual orientations, gender identities, physical abilities, and professional fields – would feel comfortable and welcome. To do that, we needed to ensure that there’d be a wide variety of of writers at the conference — both onstage and off.
At our inaugural conference, we were thrilled to host a diverse array of speakers, nearly half of whom were nonwhite, with a number of queer voices and older voices represented onstage as well. For our second conference in Los Angeles, our speakers include women of color, trans women, disabled women, queer women, and women of a variety of ages (not just the 30- and 40-somethings that usually populate the stages at conferences).
So how did we do it? For starters, we began by building diversity into our leadership team, making sure our board of advisers included a number of different types of women. But more than anything else, we actively sought out speakers of color and queer speakers and let them know that we wanted their voices to be heard. When our call for proposals went out, we actively promoted in Facebook groups specifically for women writers of color and queer writers, encouraging them to submit and be a part of the conference. And within our call for proposals, we noted that diversity was one of our most important criteria in the panel selection, asking prospective panelists to explain how their lineup exemplified our goal for multifaceted diversity.
And as our organization has grown, we’ve begun to develop partnerships with groups like VONA, which are already doing work with writers of color and are working to build relationships with groups that will allow us to strengthen our presence in a number of diverse communities. This fall we’ll even be offering stipends to help trans and gender nonconforming writers attend and participate in the conference — something we are very proud to be able to do.
Too often, organizations explain away their lack of diversity with a blithe line about how women or people of color or queer people or disabled people just didn’t seem to apply — neglecting to recognize that their recruitment strategies may very well be sending the message that those populations aren’t actually welcome. In order to foster a diverse environment, it’s important to actively work to include diverse voices; something I believe that Out of the Binders has successfully done.
But as proud as we are of what we’ve accomplished, Leigh and I both know that we can’t rest on our laurels. Maintaining and hopefully increasing diversity requires an ongoing commitment. But we’re confident that as we continue to grow Out of the Binders and strengthen our relationships with other diverse communities, we’ll be able to continue to provide a conference that showcases the voices, and meets the needs, of an incredibly diverse array of underserved writers.
LUX ALPTRAUM is a writer, sex educator, comedian, and consultant. She’s the cofounder of BinderCon, the symposium to empower women and gender-nonconforming writers. BinderCon takes place at the University of California, Los Angeles, this weekend.