Press

Largest Gathering Of Gay And Lesbian Activists Held In Detroit

Date: 
November 16, 1995

Biggest Ever Creating Change Brings Thousands Together at Time of Critical Battles on Gay Rights

2,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists and supporters gathered in Detroit, Mich., to grapple with critical challenges, savor recent civil rights victories, and prepare for new attacks on gay and lesbian equality.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's (NGLTF) 8th Annual "Creating Change Conference" was the largest ever gathering of gay activists in the country. This year's event, held Nov. 8-12, attracted some 2,000 activists from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

"Creating Change 1995 occurred at a critical juncture for the g/l/b/t community," said Sue Hyde, conference organizer. "Activists came to Detroit on the eve of profound decisions and campaigns that will influence gay rights battles well into the future. " Hyde pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court's pending ruling on the Colorado Amendment 2 measure, the controversial same-gender marriage issue, the vote to defeat Maine's anti-gay ballot referenda, and the 1996 presidential elections as events that portend dramatic implications for the gay movement. These and other issues took center stage at Creating Change 1995.

The conference featured a rich diversity of attendees. At least 250 of the attendees were under 24 years of age, representing a strong presence of youth leadership. Some 20 percent were people of color. The transgender and bisexual communities enjoyed high visibility in workshops and throughout the conference, with BiNet USA and the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy/Transexual Menace tables anchoring the conference exhibitors section. A veritable army of about 275 Detroit- area volunteers staffed the conference. CNN featured an extensive "Headline News" report on this year's gathering.

More than 160 workshops and plenaries were offered, including "Cracking the Corporate Closet," "Media Activist Clinics," "The Elections are Coming!," "Deconstructing Right Wing Defamation," "Rural Organizing," "Homophobia and Black Churches," "Hawaii Marriage Case," "Legal Services for AIDS and HIV," "High School Curriculum," "Where to Go for Foundation Money," "Lobbying State Legislators," "Inside the Athletic Closet," "Passing Local Civil Rights Laws," "G/L/B/T Families," "The Threat of Queer Sex," "Fat Dykes," and dozens more.

Once again the ever popular Digital Queers computer activism track trained activists in accessing and using the Internet and other sources for organizing work.

A mini-video/film conference festival screened numerous selections, including the controversial PBS series, "A Question of Equality." Brown bag sessions focused on strategizing for the upcoming presidential elections, report back from the Beijing International Women's Conference, and domestic violence in the gay community. Numerous workshops comprised a track for gay and questioning youth. One crowded workshop sponsored by members of the Safe Sex Sluts featured a multi-gender, pan- sexual orientation demonstration of the latest safe sex erotic techniques.

A selection of pre-conference institutes focused on key constituencies and issues in the gay movement, including "the People of Color Organizing Institute;" "Race is the Issue;" "Finding Common Ground: Allies Across Race, Class and Gender;" the "Youth Organizing Institute;" and "Community Centers."

"Creating Change is designed to empower and strengthen our local gay community and our national political movement at this critical time," said Melinda Paras, NGLTF executive director.

Activists from Maine were on hand to brief attendees on the recent battle to defeat the anti- gay Measure One. On Nov. 7 voters in that state defeated the measure by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.

"The Measure One victory is particularly significant because the referendum was what we call a dangerous 'new and improved' version of Colorado's Amendment 2," said NGLTF Campaign Consultant Susan Hibbard. "It used stealth language in an attempt to confuse voters. Maine is the first state east of the Mississippi to vote on such a measure. Michigan almost had one last year. Which state will be next?" That question could be heard throughout the numerous workshops that tackled effective strategies for fighting the Radical Right.

A hot topic at this year's conference was the upcoming presidential election. Workshops and plenary speakers strategized around increasing g/l/b/t visibility in the race. "The 1996 Presidential elections have dramatic implications for us," stated Paras. "The previous elections in 1992 marked the most attention paid to gay and lesbian issues ever, for good or for bad.

"Since then the political landscape has changed radically, bringing us to this moment in Detroit," Paras added. "A new Republican majority has created the most anti-gay Congress in the history of our community. Attacks on affirmative action, welfare, immigration, and the framing of civil rights as 'special rights' has polarized and divided communities. The record of the Clinton Administration has been mixed. The Republican presidential candidates range from hostile to very hostile and the shocking growth of the Radical Right threatens to tip the balance of American politics."

"This is an auspicious time for us," continued Paras. "The gay and lesbian movement is at a crossroads. We gathered in Detroit to state our agenda: To end discrimination and violence against us. To create a more compassionate society, one that respects the worth and dignity of all its citizens. To create real and lasting change."

Creating Change attracts a veritable "who's who" of the movement. Plenary speakers included Urvashi Vaid, nationally known activist and author of "Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation," who called for a true progressive-based social change movement and not just a focus on "gay rights;" second-term Wisconsin State Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who articulated a Midwest, grassroots-based vision for gay liberation; Elias Farajaje-Jones, author, teacher, theologian, bisexual activist recently featured in Newsweek, who spoke of "queers in intersection," or individuals who find themselves straddling labels around gender, sexual orientation, class, color and identity; and Harry Britt, pioneer gay politician and former member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who articulated the historical lessons the gay community can learn from the suffragist pioneers.

Numerous other gay movement luminaries attended, including Dee Mosbacher, Deb Price, Sean Strub, Debra Chasnoff, Scot Nakagawa, Dale McCormick, Phill Wilson, Derek Hodel, Tim McFeeley, Amber Hollibaugh, Paula Ettelbrick, Mab Segrest, Keith Boykin, Lani Ka'ahumanu, Robert Bray, Rev. Cecil Prescod, Suzanne Goldberg, and others.

The 1995 NGLTF Community Services Awards were presented to individuals and organizations who have provided outstanding support to their communities. This year's recipients were: Trikone and the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association; Phyllis Randolph Frye and the transgender community; Montana Pride; Barbara Smith; Ivy Young; Jan Stevenson; the National Education Association; Alan Hergott.

Two new activist kits were released at Creating Change to organizers hungry for resources to take home -- "To Have and To Hold: Organizing for Our Right to Marry," a manual that contains useful tips, background information, references, talking points, organizing tactics and more; and "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Campus Organizing," the definitive, massive guide to student, faculty, staff and alumni group organizing.

During the conference NGLTF's board of directors voted to support the workers involved in the ongoing strike at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, which has garnered national headlines. The NGLTF Statement said in part, "We support the right of workers in their struggle for fair and equitable treatment in the workplace, in particular at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. We call for respectful negotiations and dialogue that will result in a resolution as soon as possible to restore to the Detroit area a quality press that serves the community." In solidarity with the strikers, NGLTF did not and will not provocatively solicit coverage of Creating Change or other NGLTF activities from the two papers until the strike is settled.

To prove that all is not serious work at Creating Change, the stars came out for conference attendees at an electrifying gala concert featuring Tony Award winner Nell Carter, comediennes Lea Delaria and Karen Williams, and the a cappella group, the Fabulous Flirtations. Carter, whom many in the audience swore "came out" during her performance, closed the gala with a heart-breaking song dedicated to her brother, who died recently of AIDS.

Next year's conference will be held Veteran's Day Weekend in Alexandria, Va., in the Washington, D.C./Capital area immediately following the 1996 Presidential elections. For more information on Creating Change, call Sue Hyde at (617)492-6393.

Note: for program books contact Beth Barrett, (202)332-6483, ext. 3215.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.