Out in the South at FSU Panama City promotes inclusivity for LGBTQ+ in Northwest Florida

Jan Waddy

Abigail Reed, PhD, Professional Communication

On Feb. 5, Florida State University Panama City will host Out in the South, a diversity, equity and inclusion forum, to educate and affirm experiences of the LGBTQ+ communities.

The third annual event is set for 1:30-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, in the St. Joe Community Foundation Lecture Hall at the Holley Academic Center, 4750 Collegiate Drive, with guest speakers and live music by BeBe Deluxe of Jacksonville. Check-in starts at 12:30 p.m., and the concert begins at 6:30 p.m.

Through community partnerships, FSU PC will bring together a diverse population of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to celebrate the unique cultures and build a supportive community for everyone. 

Keynote speaker Jerry Watkins, Ph.D., author of “Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism,” will discuss “LGBTQ+ History in the Panhandle.” 

A Panama City native, Watkins currently is a history professor at The College of William and Mary. His 2018 book presents the history and challenges of gay men and lesbians in North Florida following World War II and their role in tourism.

“LGBTQ+ history keeping is a really important project that has routinely been erased,” said event organizer Abigail Reed, Ph.D. “Knowing and teaching the history is so important to have more of a community identity, so we can better understand ourselves and activism.”

Reed is a professional communication professor at FSU PC and serves as executive director at the LGBTQ Center of Bay County Inc. She received her doctorate in Communication at FSU in 2020, specializing in Media Studies with a minor in Cultural and Rhetorical Studies, before joining the teaching faculty at FSU PC.

“I teach a lot of classes about social issues and leadership at FSU PC,” said Reed, who saw the need for her professional communication skills within the LGBTQ+ community. “In the 21st century, we are interconnected to an unprecedented level. Intention gets lost in the communication process, but education can help combat miscommunication. This necessitates learning how to have different conversations. It requires coming to the table, being able to sit down and see people who are LGBTQ+ other than a cultural stereotype. Out in the South is a great opportunity to learn.”

A common misconception, Reed said, is the idea of indoctrination by the LGBTQ+ community.

“There is a huge amount of diversity with the LGBTQ+ community. We want everyone to be who they are; we are just looking to educate,” Reed said. “There is a long history through the beginning of recorded history of transgender people trying to achieve freedom to be without fearing for their lives. We even have a 13- to 18- year-old support group at the LGBTQ Center. This group is more likely to be bullied and commit suicide. We are trying to keep children safe.”

Out in the South presentations will include “Religious Freedoms and What it Means for Equality” with the Rev. Fr. Rian Adams and “LGBTQ+ Health and Wellbeing” with Dr. Jonathan Applebaum, professor at FSU Tallahassee. 

“In Northwest Florida, and in Bay County, the LGBTQ+ community has a hard time finding healthcare for transgender and gender non-conforming communities. We have a big number of transgender people here who have not seen by a primary care doctor,” said Reed, who explained it is often a lack of understanding, not an unwillingness, by healthcare professionals. “A lot of healthcare professionals want to be inclusive but are not equipped to deal with issues faced by the transgender community. When clients start talking about issues of gender, they realize they don’t have the educational experience.”

Reed explained the forum is for anyone who seeks a better understanding of these issues, which include mental health awareness. The LGBTQ+ community, Reed said, is disproportionately affected by homelessness. 

“Many within the LGBTQ+ community have been kicked out of their homes or face employment discrimination. Many are in front-facing jobs in the service industry, which is prone to cutbacks,” Reed said. 

The LGBTQ+ Center of Bay County’s inaugural Terrence McNally Scholarship is being offered to those within the LGBTQ+ community to encourage them to go to college. The deadline to apply is Feb. 21; see details at lgbtqcenterofbaycounty.org.

“A lot of people in the community want to be inclusive and want to support but don’t know how. I want the community to see Out in the South as an open resource,” Reed said. “Come to ask questions, even what you think are ‘stupid questions.’ We want people to learn judgment-free.”

Admission to Out in the South is free; register at EventBrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/146983582853