Exerpted from the "History of the Conference" item in Volume 6 (ConferU Volume 1) of rap (formerly LGM:RAP).
In Winter (1988) Term, Suzanne Pierce was one of the MEET:STUDENTS Organizers. There was a "dating game"-type item, where a couple of people were using pseudonyms (actually, everybody used the pseudos) and trying to set up dates or meetings or whatever. Actually, the "straight" people were having fun, making all sorts of jokes (about 4 people were using up to 12 pseudos, from what I recall). Anyhow, a couple of these people (Anon Beta and Anon Alpha, I think) were obviously bi or gay, and were commenting on how annoying and/or upsetting it was that there was nowhere they could go to "be themselves."
Suzanne decided to remedy the situation. She publicly announced that she was setting up something called a Confer Meeting specifically for people who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This meeting was called CPNR:MEETSUPPORT.
CPNR:MEETSUPPORT was a great idea. Within days, we had a large group of people participating in the meeting. Ideas were fast and thick, and a couple of FTF (face-to-face) meetings (lunches, bar trips to the Nectarine, and so on) were planned and went off fairly well. People made more friends, and it was a lot of fun.
However, there is a drawback to Confer Meetings. The major problem is that a MEETING is somewhat like a one-item-only conference, but without response numbers (so it's next to impossible to find any specific comment). Also, any time anyone entered or left the meeting, Confer would respond with two lines (each time!) like:
>>>> Muggledy Wump WHY.:ME
>>>> Now entering (12:34 May06/78)
People complained, and the idea of getting a conference became extremely popular. Someone mentioned that there was funding available, but as nothing else was happening, we decided to take our own action....
Since I had organized MEET:STUDENTS the term before Suzanne, I knew all about starting a conference. So, I took one of my accounts, and asked Bob Parnes if he would create a conference on it. He did. I repermitted the files so he didn't have access, and we set things up such that anyone who had access to the (private) meeting was automatically allowed access to the conference. Suzanne agreed to keep forwarding requests to someone else as well as myself.
[...] But what about public funding and a public conference?
As of October/November 1988, I started talking with the people at LGMPO (the Lesbian and Gay Male Programs Office). Sandy Lurins, the computer contact-person, and I have discussed the possibilities of getting funding from the University's General Fund.
Late in December 1988, Sandy and I submitted our proposal for LGM:RAP. We asked for a vanity Computing Center ID (LGM:, for Lesbian/Gay Male, as in LGMPO), and we waited on pins and needles for the ccids to come through from the Computing Center. Well, they did, and after a mix-up with what department was funding us, we got the funds we asked for and set up LGM:RAP.
Five successful volumes later, the University and the Information Technology Division (ITD) began the process of moving conferencing off of MTS and onto Unix (as part of the larger issue of shutting down MTS). So LGM:RAP became "rap," and the rest is history.
A brief note about policies and procedures: The conference is not to pick up other people (though it's not forbidden). It is not a conference for "I want to have sex now" items, a la recent MEET:STUDENTS volumes on MTS. This is not a conference for personals advertisements (a la "GWM seeking..." "BiWF wanted...").
It IS a conference for discussing issues pertaining to and relevant to gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people. Is sex and sexuality relevant? Certainly. But discussions are welcomed (for example, an item in (UM-MTS) LGM:RAP Volume 5 discussed bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism), and not just flirtation and banter and advertisements.
The rationale for this dates back to how we got our initial approval for funding. LGMPO agreed to the Computing Center's request that we (on the conference) not exhort others to perform illegal acts. And in Michigan (and at the time, even on U-M campuses) homosexual activities are illegal. So to say "We won't exhort or condone illegal activities" we wound up having to deny "Let's have sex" items.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I'm happy to answer any questions anybody may have. And if I don't know the answer, I'll either find out and let you know or I'll point you to someone who does.
Conferencing with ConferU ended at the University of Michigan at the end of August, 1999, when the machine confer.itd.umich.edu was turned off for the last time.