Talking The Talk And Walking The Walk At Creating Change '99
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
When some 1,500 activists streamed out of the Oakland Marriott City Center to march on the Oakland Police Department during Creating Change last weekend, they weren't just demanding a halt to police harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
They were also practicing lessons learned during the conference itself — and lessons learned from a movement that is more inclusive, more forward-thinking and more willing to practice the politics of positive transformation than ever before.
Last week, the 12th annual Creating Change, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, visited Northern California for the first time ever. Creating Change is the annual political gathering and skills-building conference of the GLBT movement. Next year's conference will be held in Atlanta.
Four daily plenary sessions held during the conference addressed how the "gay" movement was transformed to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people; accessibility issues within the GLBT movement; religion as an agent of social change; and the movement's second century.
Sue Hyde, NGLTF field organizer and Creating Change conference director, said the march to the Oakland Police Department served as a practical application of messages heard at plenaries and throughout the conference. "First, it was an attack on a transgendered person that led us to march," Hyde said. "Second, the march route was carefully selected so that mobility-impaired people could participate. Third, the march itself was organized and led by transgendered and youth activists and local organizers. Finally, in the best tradition of Gandhi and King, we did not demonize or vilify the other side, but energetically and respectfully called for a dialogue with the Oakland Police Department — a dialogue that will begin next week when local GLBT leaders and the Oakland Police Chief meet face to face."
(Note to editors: Photos of both the march on the Oakland Police Department and of other Creating Change events are available upon request.)
Other highlights of Creating Change included:
- A welcome by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who for the first time came out in opposition to the Knight Initiative, an anti-gay ballot measure that would ban the state of California from recognizing same-sex marriages in other states. Legal scholars warn that the initiative could threaten hard-won GLBT civil rights victories in many areas, including hospital visitation rights, anti-discrimination ordinances and adoption by same-sex couples. During the conference, NGLTF announced a $25,000 pledge to the No On Knight campaign and took up a special collection on the spot that raised more than $3,700 for the campaign.
Brown predicted that if GLBT people and their allies organize, the Knight Initiative could result in strengthening the GLBT movement much like the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay and lesbian people from teaching in public schools, ushered in a new era of GLBT activism in the 1970s.
"Let the word go forth that just as 20 years ago we defeated the Briggs Initiative, the Knight Initiative will see its demise, beginning right here in Oakland, California," Brown said. "The Initiative adds nothing, really, to the law of California. It just operates as a prejudicial wedge issue, a divisive effort to create a scapegoat to further a right-wing agenda."
- An address by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who reminded attendees that GLBT people throughout much of the nation face danger and discrimination on a daily basis. "In our human rights movement, we certainly have come a long way over the past 20 years," said Rep. Lee, an Oakland Democrat. "In cities such as San Francisco, New York and West Hollywood, and of course Oakland, it is easier to live freely for most lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people. Unfortunately, however, not all enjoy this right. In other parts of our country, many of our brothers and sisters still live with the fear that if they choose to live freely, their own lives are endangered. Our work is very clear: we have to work to build a society that values every life regardless of sexual preference or orientation."
- An intensive training by Dave Fleischer, head of the Electoral Training Initiative of the Policy Institute of NGLTF. Fleischer led more than 50 volunteers into Oakland's precincts, where they knocked on more than 1,000 doors and identified 519 voters who were then asked to oppose the Knight Initiative. Throughout the course of the conference, he emphasized the importance of grassroots mobilization, canvassing, and face-to-face contact with voters. "The one thing we all know if we've come out to anyone is the transformational power of one of us talking to another human being about the realities of our lives," Fleischer said. "That's the way that we must combat the stereotypical thinking that the religious right relies upon to win ballot measures. If we meet enough voters face to face, we can defeat the Knight Initiative. But if we do not engage voters in a conversation about ourselves, our families and our dreams, we will not fulfill our potential."
- An address by Rev. Mel White, leader of Soulforce. White urged attendees not to respond to attacks from the religious right with hate and anger. "Gandhi and King remind us that our only task is to reconcile," White said. "You help the spirit of truth by learning to love your enemyŠWe have to learn to love each other. We have to learn to reconcile with each other. We have to quit calling each other names. It is the only way that we can save our world from disaster."
This year's Creating Change was dedicated to local training and organizing — not just organizing against the Knight Initiative, but organizing in local communities across the country that increasingly are becoming the center of the campaign for GLBT equality. "NGLTF's Creating Change conference represented the best of the GLBT movement," said NGLTF Executive Director Kerry Lobel. "Participants from the country's largest cities and smallest towns banded together to educate voters about the Knight Initiative and to discuss how to organize for equality at home. Nearly 1,500 conference attendees marched to the police department to demand a change in the department's attitude about Oakland's GLBT residents. Not only did we talk the talk inside the conference walls, we walked the walk on the Oakland streets."
This year's conference also resulted in a number of "firsts." It was the first time that Creating Change hosted a Town Meeting, intended to strengthen local organizing. It was the first time that GLBT youth attending the conference were provided with three free meals a day — courtesy of the Youth Subcommittee of the 1999 Host Committee and the Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County Youth Center. More than 400 GLBT youth attended Creating Change, a new record.
It was the first time that GLBT elders had a hospitality suite as well as an enhanced emphasis in the conference program itself a reflection of NGLTF's new Aging Initiative, which will identify and address the needs of GLBT elders. Another first was a Sunday morning Elders Reception, organized by the Elders Subcommittee of the Host Committee and funded by the Gill Foundation.
It was also the first time Creating Change offered the Body Politic Workout, a series of day-long seminars that focused on individual and team leadership development, fundraising, media skills, grassroots organizing, lobbying, electoral strategies and organizational planning. The Body Politic Workout attracted more than 200 participants — almost 10 percent of the conference attendance.
Cited for special awards this year were two groups and one individual. Harry Hay, a veteran activist and icon of the early gay movement, was honored for his work and his courage. And two local groups — the Kentucky Fairness Alliance and the Fairness Campaign of Louisville — were cited for their work in passing several nondiscrimination ordinances in Kentucky.
Plenaries — a staple of every Creating Change conference — examined the following topics:
- "Politics Is A Many-Gendered Thing." This plenary explored the evolution from "gay" politics to the new gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered movement for social justice. It featured Riki Anne Wilchins, executive director of GenderPAC; Sgt. Stephan Thorne of the San Francisco Police Department; Dr. Carol Queen, author, sex educator and owner of Good Vibrations in San Francisco; and Carmen Vazquez, public policy director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York, NY.
- "An Accessible Movement." This plenary explored the concept of accessibility and how the GLBT movement can be more inclusive of disabled people. It featured Janet Weinberg, president, Board of Directors, Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, New York, NY; Dragonsani Renteria, Queer Deaf Resource Center, San Francisco, CA; and Gene Chelberg, assistant director, Disability Services, University of Minnesota.
- "Religion As An Agent of Social Change." This plenary examined the spiritual bases for the support of religious allies of the GLBT movement and offered guidance in the construction of a faith-based progressive movement. It featured Rev. Mel White of SoulForce; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Simchat Torah, New York, NY; and Rev. Kathi Martin of the United Church of Christ, Stone Mountain, GA.
- "Our Movement's Next Century." This plenary examined the challenges facing the GLBT movement in the future, particularly in the areas of law and public policy. It featured Susan Stryker, executive director, Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California; Vera Martin, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, Apache Junction, AZ; and Michael Scarce, author and activist, San Francisco. Also appearing at this plenary session were eM Sangrey, a student at Smith College and a graduate of NGLTF's Youth Leadership Institute, and Tom Ammiano, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
This year's Creating Change was sponsored with the help of Gay.com, Pacific Bell, PlanetOut, Wells Fargo Foundation, HERO Magazine, Harvey Milk Foundation, The Advocate, BREATH/American Lung Association, Kaiser Permanente, Lesbian.com, Olivia Cruises and Resorts, AT&T, Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron and Port of Oakland. American Airlines was the official carrier for Creating Change.
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 movementís 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.
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