Creating Change 2006

‘Outlining a vision and an agenda where equality is the floor and a transformed America is the ceiling’

More than 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocates converged on Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 8–12, for the 19th annual Creating Change Conference to strategize and re-energize just one day after the critical midterm election.

Creating Change reflects the breadth and scope of diversity of the LGBT community and supporters of LGBT rights. Special meetings, informal networking and brainstorming sessions run alongside more than 150 workshops and 14 daylong institutes.

Not surprisingly, attendees at this year’s event were buoyed by the election’s many positive outcomes for our community, while still recognizing the enormous work ahead of us as we build a progressive movement.

As Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said in his dynamic “State of the Movement” address, “Let’s remember this moment of hope and optimism as the time that, with incredible pride in all we’ve accomplished, we lifted our heads up and re-embraced a vision and an agenda where equality is the floor and a transformed America is the ceiling.”

Foreman offered an agenda in which we “see and think bigger and better.” An agenda that will not allow a federal nondiscrimination or hate crimes bill that is not transgender inclusive. An agenda that unequivocally states that equality under the law is the floor, not the ceiling. One in which there is marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose is inviolate. One in which everyone can serve openly in the military and there is an end to the scapegoating of any group of people for political gain, including people of color and immigrants.

“This, folks, is a big agenda. It requires us reaching out and working with and for ‘other’ causes as never before,” Foreman told the standing-room-only crowd during a speech that was covered by the Associated Press and Reuters news services, among others.

“This is not only the right thing to do, it is critical we do it. It will make achieving the floor of our agenda and the vision of our movement possible,” Foreman concluded. “So, let’s remember this moment of hope and optimism as the time that, with incredible pride in all we’ve accomplished, we lifted our heads up and re-embraced a vision and an agenda where equality is the floor and a transformed America is the ceiling.”

Loretta Ross, national coordinator and co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, sounded a similar note in her plenary speech, calling for activists to build a new human rights movement that starts at home.

Expressing concern that we are “indulging in the excesses of identity politics” and engaging in separate and parallel social justice movements, Ross said, “While we’re fighting each other in our own Oppression Olympics, the neofascists and neoliberals are kicking our asses. They’re killing us. And only a united movement for all of our human rights will save us.”

In the closing segment of the opening plenary, a panel moderated by Andy Marra, board president of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and featuring Eddy Morales, outgoing president of the United States Student Association, Rinku Sen, publisher of ColorLines, Olga Vives, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, and Cuc T. Vu, Task Force board member and the immigration campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union, talked about the intersection of social justice movements.

Sen said that while many might be excited by the outcome of the election, come January when the new Congress convenes, “we need to push really hard to win back the rights we’ve lost over two decades and expand those rights, so by ’08 we can begin having a really different electoral conversation.”

‘25 Years of AIDS’: A call to action

Dr. Marjorie J. Hill and Bienestar CEO Oscar De La O, in their plenary titled “25 Years of AIDS,” challenged our movement to focus on the racism, homophobia and sexism that have propelled the spread of HIV. Hill, the CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said the HIV epidemic is most centrally about “racism and poverty linked to reinforce the numerous barriers. No, it’s not just about access to medicine or care; it’s about being able to pay for that care and pay for that doctor.”

Lambasting the far right’s blame-the-victim culture, Hill said that the high rate of HIV infection is not about immorality or irresponsibility. Instead, she charged, “It is about our outrage, it is about our pain, covering our pain with booze and crystal meth, it is about taxation without rights, it is about being bullied at school and in the courtroom, and it is about being disowned and dismissed both at birth and then at death.”

Citing disproportionate access to private health insurance, education and economic resources, she said, “It’s about class, socioeconomic status, and it’s about sexism. It is about social justice. It is about change. It is about freedom. It is about transgender rights. It is about economic stability and economic empowerment.” The answer, she said, is about racial and gender and sexual freedom; “the answer is about creating change.”

De La O, meanwhile, talked about “the past 25 years of pain, loss and frustration," saying that "it has also been 25 years of survival.”

He encouraged everyone “to reach out and support all of the affected communities in your local community. But most of all, keep your hearts open and compassion alive for those living with HIV and AIDS.”

In a poignant moment, Task Force Deputy Director Rea Carey invited conference attendees to place on a massive “We Remember” banner the names, photos, words or personal items of people we have lost over the years. The banner, loaned by Heritage of Pride, New York’s pride committee, was on display throughout the conference.

Activists honored

Frank Kameny, a Task Force founding board member whose archive of more than 70,000 letters, documents and memorabilia collected over his decades of activism have been accepted by the Library of Congress, received the Task Force’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The Task Force was proud to make a $7,500 donation — made possible by the Anderson Prize Foundation — to the Kameny Papers Project, a managed trust fund for Kameny that was put together by those who love and care about him.

Also honored with Creating Change Awards, as well as $5,000 checks made possible by the Anderson Prize Foundation, were Dave Rhodes, creator of The Leather Journal and founder of the only gender-inclusive pansexual leather awards; Eli Clare, a white, disabled, genderqueer poet and essayist who said in a rousing speech that “disability rights activists are waiting for the queer community to surprise us"; and youth advocates Wick Thomas and Jovan Sage.

Terri Worman, manager for state operations for AARP Illinois and co-chair of the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Aging, was awarded the 2006 Allan Morrow Community Service Award plus $5,000, made possible by the Allan Morrow Foundation.