Dakotas’ Equality Summit is not just for the LGBT community; it’s also for allies.

Conference chair for the Dakotas’ Equality Summit is Billy Mawhiney. He served on the board of the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls for several years. He says the goal of this year’s summit is for the audience to understand their stories matter and to connect the community through these stories.

“The idea is people are going to be talking about their personal stories and we’re going to be learning from these,” explained Mawhiney. “We have personal stories and then we have professionals who talk about that.”

Leslie Jordan is the featured speaker for the Sioux Falls event that will be held September 9-10 at the downtown Holiday Inn. He’s an Emmy-award winning actor who’s known for his roles in Will and Grace, The Help, and American Horror Story. Jordan will perform his comedy act for attendees on Friday night at 8 p.m. followed by a meet and greet.

On Saturday, attendees will get to hear from a mother who lost her son to suicide and the emotions that came with that loss. Someone will then speak about suicide prevention following this talk.

“We know what the struggles are internally and individually,” said Mawhiney. “This gives us that opportunity to build strength in numbers. Other people are fighting similar battles and similar struggles.”

Attendees will get to hear from several featured speakers on Saturday: Jeff Walker, a man living with HIV; Brett Ray, a trans author; Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality; and finally Annie Lloyd, a community organizer and founder of Rapid City-based Buffalo Gals. All of these speakers will share their unique stories and the strides they have made as part of the LGBT community.

“The biggest thing we want people to go away with is finding that connection of why they’re at the summit, then taking the information and still being able to stay connected through that,” said Mawhiney.

“This gives us that opportunity to build strength in numbers. Other people are fighting similar battles and similar struggles.”

He hopes attendees will return to their communities and share the information from the Dakotas’ Equality Summit to motivate and encourage others.

Human resource professionals are also encouraged to attend the event, and learn how to foster the best work environment possible for all employees. Mawhiney says besides attending, local businesses have the opportunity to sponsor the event and put their name behind equality.

After listening to the speakers, Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen, known as “Amy & Freddy,” will conclude the summit with a musical comedy performance. It will be a time to celebrate what people have learned and how far the LGBT community has come.

“The main purpose of this event is to bring people together,” stressed Mawhiney. “It’s for everyone; it’s not just for LGBT individuals, it’s also for allies. This is just an opportunity to learn.”

Tickets are $50 for only Friday night. Tickets to attend both Friday and Saturday are $80. Those interested can pay $160 for their registration and to donate an extra spot to someone who may need a scholarship to attend the event.

For more information, visit equalitysummit.com or the Facebook page under “Dakotas’ Equality Summit.”

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