Rea Carey, State of the Movement Address 2014
Director of Communications
Statement from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
State of the Movement Address, Rea Carey, Task Force, Executive Director
Delivered, Friday January 31, 2014 at the 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, Houston, Texas
If you’re from Texas, make some noise! If you’re from Houston, make some noise! If you’re excited about being here at Creating Change, let's hear it! If you like my boots, make some noise! I'm from Colorado, I know about boots, and how to ride a horse.
You know, I love Texas because it has long been the home to some seriously strong and inspirational women like Governor Ann Richards; congressional legends Barbara Jordan and Sheila Jackson Lee; extraordinary State Legislators Wendy Davis and fierce Latina and LGBT advocate, Leticia Van De Putte, who famously demanded that her voice be heard by her male colleagues. And there’s State Legislator from El Paso, Mary Gonzalez, who happens to be the first openly pansexual elected official in the United States. And, of course, Houston’s dynamic Mayor Annise Parker who we heard from last night.
So, here we are at Creating Change—the biggest, most inclusive, LGBT family reunion in the country. This conference is passionate, it’s powerful and it is more than a conference. There are 4,000 of you here at Creating Change. It wasn’t that many years ago that we consistently had 2,000 people we thought that was big. And now, it has doubled in size. Why? Yes, it is about being in Texas and having an amazing Host Committee. And, this has become the progressive town square where people from many movements come to do their work at the intersections, strategize together, learn from each other and, let’s be real–to have some fun!
We draw our energy this week from the inclusion of so many perspectives and the firm knowledge that together our collective power can change everything. I am telling you, there is really no collection of letters in the alphabet that can truly capture the beauty of each of our amazing lives. If you care about immigrant rights, reproductive rights and justice, racial and economic justice, international issues, youth power, senior power, HIV/AIDS, and progressive social change, you are here and you are home! We are here, in all of our identities as whole, dynamic, diverse and fabulous human beings and we resist the notion that we must be a lesbian on Thursday, a professor on Friday, Black on Saturday, and a woman on Sunday! We are whole people!
We are here to build power, take action and create change and if I know one thing about the 4,000 people here at Creating Change and the tens of thousands following on social media, we are not shy about insisting that our voices are heard across the world, in the streets, in the media, in the White House, in every statehouse, in every school, in places of worship and in the places we work.
We certainly made sure our voices were heard last year. 2013 showed us—and this country—that the wins of 2012 were not a fluke. The momentum of the movement is in favor of progressive change. We are here to stay, our progress continues and we will not allow this country to turn back.
Last year, was one of the biggest years yet in the history of the LGBT movement when it comes to legal equality. Our movement has the best legal minds in the country and when matched with brave people like Edie Windsor, with strong advocacy, and our grassroots mobilization, we can’t be stopped! And we showed that those who are not for equality and freedom are quickly finding themselves in the dustbin of the past.
The state of our movement is, in fact, strong. Issue number one for the Task Force and for the movement in this last year was ending discrimination—from employment discrimination to marriage discrimination; from bullying in schools to the lack of support in assisted living programs; from discrimination against undocumented immigrants to transgender people, who face horrific discrimination in literally every single area of their lives.
There are too many successes to talk about–believe me, I tried in the early drafts of my remarks, but our staff insisted that no one is interested in me talking for three hours—I know I’m not.
But for a few markers of our progress, we have to look no further than the great Lone Star State in the city of San Antonio where just this past fall, Mayor Julian Castro and the San Antonio City Council heard our voices, took action and created change by passing a sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. That’s progress.
A thousand miles away, in Royal Oak, Michigan, Michigan is in the house, we pushed back yet another well-organized, well-funded attempt to destroy that city’s comprehensive and inclusive non-discrimination laws, and we won. That is progress.
And in the same week as the Royal Oak victory, after two decades of work, the US Senate finally and resoundingly passed ENDA. We needed 60 votes and we got 64 bipartisan votes. This is critical momentum as we push for future passage by the U.S. House. That is progress.
We finally got the Social Security Administration to catch up to reality and no longer require transgender people to have surgery to update the gender on their social security record. Imagine, not being able to apply for a job, get healthcare, or travel to see a loved one because your gender doesn’t match your card. I know a lot of you in this room have experienced this. Well, we got that changed. That’s progress.
And, then of course, there is the freedom to marry the person we love. Our movement has worked for years to create a climate in which more states could get marriage equality and the Supreme Court could let the demise of Prop 8 stand and strike the death knell for the so-called DOMA.
If you are from one of the now 17 states plus DC that now has marriage equality, congratulations! And, don’t worry–those of you from Utah, WE know you are married!
I’m proud to say that our Task Force staff were there on the ground helping local advocates to win many of these battles and others over the last year.
For example, when the Minnesota Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill it had much to do with the Task Force’s partnership with Minnesotans United for Marriage, OutFront MN, Project 515 and Welcoming Congregations in mobilizing people of faith to talk to their legislators through calls and visits - and it worked! Some of the most powerful moments for me personally this year, were those that unfortunately some still don’t see as LGBT moments.
Like when, here in Texas, hundreds of women and men joined together and organized the People’s Filibuster for our right to make decisions about our own bodies.
Moments like when CeCe McDonald was released early from prison, and she has come out stronger than ever–not just for LGBT freedom, but in speaking out for desperately needed prison reform.
Moments like when the President announced on Tuesday that he will sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and millions of people will be better able to make ends meet.
Like partnering with our immigrant rights colleagues to get the Senate to pass immigration reform and how throughout the year thousands of people protested, engaged in civil disobedience and put their bodies on the line demanding a path to citizenship for 11 million people. One of the most important moments for me, personally, was linking arms with 104 other women as we sat down in the middle of Independence Avenue next to the U.S. Capitol and got arrested fighting for immigration reform. The courage of the undocumented women who put their freedom on the line that day and every day is still with me.
Immigration reform, reproductive rights and justice, gender justice, prison reform, fair pay, racial justice… these are all LGBT issues!
All of these victories have one critical thing in common - you, us and people like all of us—working together at the local, state and national level to ensure that everyone is able to live free from discrimination. Together, we built grassroots power, and we used it for change.
To be sure, 2013 was big.
AND…our work is far from finished in ensuring that all LGBT people and their families can one day taste the sweetness of freedom.
We are being separated, our families are being separated because of our broken immigration system.
We can still be fired for who we are or who we love—in 29 states because we’re lesbian, gay or bisexual and in 33 states, if we are transgender. Sure, you can get married, but put a picture of your wedding on your desk at work and a bigoted supervisor can get you fired.
We can still be turned away at the polling station because of our gender identity and the color of our skin as voting rights are being systematically eroded by the courts and as our friend Al Sharpton calls it, “James Crow Junior” politics.
Yes, there is much that remains to be done to achieve freedom for LGBT people. We still have items to attend to continuing to push the House of Representatives to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; to pass fair immigration reform; to raise the minimum wage, and to restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
And if this House won’t be fair-minded on the issues affecting our country, let’s elect a House that is.
Let us intensify our fight to protect LGBT people in parts of the country where barely any laws exist to provide safety and opportunity for LGBT people.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends in the reproductive justice movement to oppose our common foes in the quest for liberation and freedom. We must stay engaged in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and oppose harmful policies with trans health exclusions. And we must once and for all, eradicate racial profiling.
Now of course, the change we must push for isn’t just legal change. We must push for a country–and frankly for an LGBT movement - that shows leadership on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic–not just for some, but for everyone.
And, since the President neglected to say it on Tuesday night, I will say it loud and clear: we need an Executive Order banning discrimination against the millions of LGBT people who work for federal contractors. Mr. President, take out your pen and line it up with your stated values!
As we approach the 45th anniversary of Stonewall, it’s easy for us to say that we have come a long way. And we have–a incredibly long way. Yet today, every victory the Task Force and we as a movement - as a people-achieve, makes clearer the inequalities that remain–the painful gap between progress and true freedom. This is the bridge we must build and walk proudly from legal equality to the other side, which is the power of lived freedom.
As we find ourselves standing in the spotlight of victory on marriage, we must redouble our commitment to the long haul and to the full range of needs we have as a community. Plus, remember, there are still 33 states where we live as second class citizens because we can’t marry the person we love. AND, and let’s not allow our movement’s progress to be measured on marriage alone, or be lulled into thinking that it will resolve the injustices that remain.
And, we must see the danger in whispering–or thinking–that there are “good gays” and “bad gays.” That to be a “good gay” means getting married or being HIV negative. That to be a “bad gay” means building a family that defies the boxes on the census, or being HIV positive.
Let’s not be those people. Let’s not lose the fact that long before Stonewall, our very insistence on our sexuality, on the uniqueness of how we create family, on the beauty of our queer culture and helped to make this community and this country strong. Let's not lose sight of that.
We must not ignore our own moral compass at the very moment when looking in many directions is called for.
We must not lose ourselves at the very moment we are finding our freedom.
Instead we must think big about where we go from here. We’ve spent decades building power, now we must use it—and use it with care, and compassion and love.
After all, what type of community do we want our families to thrive in?
What movement can we create that benefits ALL, not just some.
What type of world do we want to live in?
We must be more determined than ever to lead the effort to create a world where no one is devalued, no one is an after thought and no one is left behind in what is quickly becoming a divided country – the haves and the have nots–including when it comes to LGBT equality. Let us not be divided.
Each of us will have a different way of knowing that we have reached a milestone on the road to full equality, justice and freedom.
For the single mom in Minnesota, it might be a nation where women are actually paid the same as men. Right?
For the millions of young women and men across the fine state of Texas—including LGBT people—full freedom may mean full access to comprehensive reproductive health care including abortion—even, and especially, if you are poor.
For the dad in Florida, progress might be a neighborhood where his teenage son isn’t stalked and shot dead by a vigilante.
For the black transgender woman in Georgia—a first time voter—full justice may mean not being turned away at the polling station because of the gender marker on her ID card or the color of her skin.
And since we are in Texas, the up-and-coming lesbian rodeo rider, it means she could actually be openly, proudly out.
We also can’t forget our relationship to our friends around the world. Those of us in the U.S. have much to share - and much to learn - when it comes to political and social change for LGBT people. I am thankful for the organizations in our movement who have as their primary mission and expertise, international work. They have been working for decades to create change, and support and learn from our colleagues in other countries. Freedom for LGBT people in Russia, Zimbawe, Nigeria, Uganda, Saudi Arabia and numerous other countries might mean simply being able to be out without being arrested, or having your children taken away from you, or without being tortured or murdered. When the Olympics have come and gone, let’s not stop talking about the rest of the world where LGBT people suffer, including here in the U.S.
While my remarks here each year are about our movement as a whole and what we can do, , let me briefly say something about where the Task Force is headed. Our board and staff have spent the last year examining where we are in our progress for both legal equality and lived freedom; the unique contributions the Task Force makes in achieving progress; and the social, technological and political forces that require adaptation and innovation.
And here’s what we know. The Task Force is best when we lead, innovate and act. So in the next few years you can expect:
We will expand our progressive voice to push the envelope on the range of issues affecting our lives.
We will be building a bigger base of skilled organizers and activists to work on the ground at the intersections of issues like reproductive justice, economic and racial justice, immigration and our lives as LGBT people.
We will be building a more diverse leadership for our movement’s organizations.
We will be making visible the many ways–not just passing laws–that change is being created by and for LGBT people.
And we will use innovations and technologies that are being used regularly in other sectors to make engaging in this movement more accessible to more people.
And, we will be implementing a more expansive Creating Change as an in-person and virtual crowd-sourced social justice engine, propelling our movement forward!
Ultimately, the future of the Task Force and the future of our movement is about possibility.
It’s like what Laverne Cox says. Instead of a “role model,” she calls herself a “possibility model.” Possibility Model.
The future of our movement is to show that it is possible to come out of the isolation of any closet; to be fully proud of who we are; and to step into the power and fabulousness that is each and every one of us. And, as Laverne urged us, to love ourselves and love each other. To those of you here who may have recently come out, or are working to be fully who you are, I say to you, you are beautiful, and strong and powerful. And, we need you. Because together, we have a lot of work to do! We need you.
Our power is to show this country what is possible together, what it means to survive together.
Our power is to provide hope to society for the future.
The truth is, our journey of self–from isolation, to pride, to power, to love-is our journey of community, is our movement’s journey. For those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, same gender loving and yes, straight, our journey is from daring to recognize the light within, that is our true identity… to the power of our humanity and our love to change hearts, minds, laws and lives.
The question that confronts us as a movement, as LGBT people, is: What will we do with the collective power we have attained-perceived or real?
Power is obviously complicated. It’s been used against us through overt and systemic homophobia, bi- and trans-phobia, racism, sexism… in so many painful ways. Many of us do not have traditional power or privilege in this society.
But every single one of us has the power of our journey; of our story and the fact that we have survived.
Yes, equality does reside in changing laws, having the ability to get married, be out at work, having openly LGBT elected officials. But EQUITY and freedom-true, true freedom-will not exist until we end discrimination and transform this society.
The measure of our progress can’t only be whether we pass a state law or change a federal policy.
The measure of our progress must be when a Black trans woman can walk down a city street at night without hit by a bottle, being harassed, bullied or worse brutally murdered.
The measure of our progress must be when a student with gay parents feels safe asking a school to change its “mother/father” permission slips to “parent or guardian,” and the school does it without question or better yet the school does it, before being asked.
The measure of our progress must also be about the growing numbers of us who, when asked by the hotel clerk if we and our partners would like to have one bed or two… confidently say “one bed please.”
These seemingly small day to day actions–walking down a street, turning in a permission slip, falling asleep together-turn out to be very very big. And they are what our movement is made of. They are what demonstrates our progress.
I myself still struggle-as privileged as I am being white, living in the District of Columbia with marriage and some of the best non-discrimination laws in the country. I have to decide every single time someone on a bus, or train or plane asks me what I do for work, if I am going to say, “I work for the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” And, friends, admittedly, I sometimes hesitate. I sometimes falter. And I am sorry. But when I do, I draw upon the strength of you, the strength, the power and the courage of us, as a movement of powerful people–to create a world in which none of us has to hesitate or falter. None of us! None of us! That is the world we are working for.
We know, we in this room and our friends across this country know, that legal and policy progress is absolutely critical but it is not freedom. We will win marriage in all 50 states, we will, and we will pass more non-discrimination laws across the land. We will partner with those in other countries for a change. And then, as history has proven through the labor, civil rights, and reproductive justice movements… the tough work of holding onto that legal equality and moving towards full freedom will test our resolve. But I know we won’t walk away from the challenge that lies ahead.
We all know from our struggles and the many lives we’ve lost from Stonewall to the AIDS crisis; to the relentless violence that takes the lives of trans people far too often; to the despair that too many young people still feel, how brief and precious life can be. Let’s make it worth every moment we are here on this earth to inspire each other, to transform society, to feel collective pride, to step up and leverage our power to demand and achieve lasting change.
Even if we were to win everything legally, do we think our opponents would give up and go home? No.
Our responsibility as a people, in this moment, in this moment, is to accept the privilege and power of our progress on issues such as marriage and use it, use it well, to call attention to the fact that our work for equity, freedom and justice for us-and for all-is not done.
I ask you to take a moment and look around this room. Really look. All the way to the back, to the front. Really look. See this room. When you head home from Creating Change, or face a tough day, when you hesitate or even falter, I ask you to remember this day, this week here in Houston and have strength, know that you are not alone, you can press on and that we will succeed! We will succeed.
YES, we are powerful as individuals, yet we are even more powerful together as a people acting out of love and pushing for a just society and creating lasting change for all.
We need more change.
We need more change.
We need more change.
We need more change.
We do need more change!
Friends, together we can create more change and we will be free.
Click here to see Rea Carey's full State of the Movement Address.
To learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, follow us on Twitter: @TheTaskForce.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force builds the power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from the ground up. The Task Force is the country's premier social justice organization fighting to improve the lives of LGBT people and working to create positive, lasting change and opportunity for all. The Task Force is a 501(c)(3) corporation incorporated in Washington, D.C. Contributions to the Task Force are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. © 2013, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1325 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C., 20005. Phone 202.393.5177. TTY 202.393.2284. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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