National Gay and Lesbian Task Force REPORT FROM CREATING CHANGE

Saturday, November 11:


The 19th annual Creating Change Conference is under way in Kansas City, Mo., where more than 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates are strategizing and planning on the heels of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

“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.” — Dr. Marjorie J. Hill, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis


25 years of AIDS: A new call to action

Twenty-five years after the New York Times reported a “mysterious gay cancer,” today’s Creating Change Conference plenary speakers focused on communities of color and the racism, homophobia and sexism that have propelled the spread of HIV. Dr. Marjorie J. Hill and Oscar De La O praised the LGBT community’s quickness to respond in those early days of the crisis and challenged our movement to refocus on the disease that continues to ravage our community.

Hill, newly appointed CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the first African American to hold the position, addressed what the reality of HIV has meant to communities of color, LGBT communities and people around the world. Firing off jarring statistics such as the fact that 40 million people in the world are infected with HIV and 90 percent of them do not know they’re infected, while nearly one in two African-American men is HIV-positive and half of them don’t know it Hill showed how high HIV rates disproportionately punish people of color, lower-income people, women and LGBT people. Homophobia, she explained, kills heterosexuals because it prevents them from accessing information, and kills women who are persuaded that they can’t be infected because it’s a “gay men’s disease.”

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.”

Most centrally, she noted, the HIV epidemic is 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. Poverty is universally correlated with higher rates of HIV all around the world, as is lower rates of education.”

In a call-and-response that invigorated the packed hall, Hill emphasized that “it’s not about HIV.” 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.”

Oscar De La O, CEO of BIENESTAR, the country’s largest Latino HIV social service organization, talked about “the past 25 years of pain, loss and frustration. But it has also been 25 years of survival.”

He praised the LGBT community’s “leadership, advocacy and kindness in dealing with the epidemic which created new families, support networks, but most important of all, love for those infected with the disease.”

De La O also urged against complacency among young people, saying the “younger generation needs to understand what manageable really means: It’s a lifetime of adherence to medicines and many potential side effects. The excitement over a one-pill regimen is not covered by the truth that HIV comes with many life changes, stigma and a lifetime of unnecessary challenges to both mind and body.”

Advocating for inclusion of Latinos and people of color in the broader LGBT social justice movement, he said, “as the phrase ‘the changing face of AIDS’ is being created, we fail many times to understand that the phrase ‘people of color’ includes gay and transgender people. Many times the discussion is framed around gay white men versus people of color, or immigrants versus black men. That doesn’t serve us well.”

In closing, De La O called for the slogan “silence equals death” to continue to guide our actions. “It’s okay to rest for a little while and appreciate everything that has been created for this community. However, our fight is far from over. Our war against AIDS continues. While there has been some progress and improvement, the fight goes on. There’s still a lot of pain, violence, stigma, denial out there. I encourage all of you 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.”


Creating Change Awards

Dave Rhodes, creator of The Leather Journal and founder of the only gender-inclusive pansexual leather awards, and Eli Clare, a white, disabled, genderqueer poet and essayist, were each honored today with a Creating Change Award and $5,000 check, made possible by the Anderson Prize Foundation. Rhodes, who delivered his acceptance speech via video, noted that “many great ideas die on the vine” and urged activists to be persistent and expand their sense of what is possible. The award was presented to him by Mr. San Francisco Leather 2007 Travis Creston, who was joined by leather advocate Philip Deitch and Task Force board member Chuck Renslow.

Clare has walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program and helped to organize the first-ever Queerness and Disability Conference in 2002. Clare is the author of Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. His collection of poetry called The Marrows Telling will be published next year. He works at the University of Vermont’s LGBTQA Services.

Presenting the award, Task Force Capacity Building Director Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz highlighted Clare’s contribution to the Creating Change Conference and our LGBT movement: “Over the past eight months, Eli worked in partnership with the Task Force to deepen our commitment to making our Creating Change conference more accessible to queer disabled activists. His principled leadership, wisdom and guidance have helped to make Creating Change a better conference and contributed to the understanding that ableism is a queer issue.”

In a rousing speech, Clare accepted the award “upset, angry and frustrated about the obstacles facing the disabled community and the challenges of ableism.” After reading a poem to illustrate the need for greater understanding of disabled people and calling on the LGBT community to make room for disabled LGBT persons, he said that “disability rights activists are waiting for the queer community to surprise us.”


Eric Rofes Memorial Scholarship Fund unveiled today

Richard Burns, executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, introduced the Eric Rofes Memorial Scholarship Fund this afternoon. Eric Rofes, an activist and author, passed away on June 26. The fund, created in his honor, will provide scholarships for young activists who wish to attend Creating Change. Burns spoke movingly about Rofes’ life and accomplishments, calling him “an architect of friendship.” A slideshow and music followed.

Rofes, a former Task Force board member, was an enthusiastic and thought-provoking contributor to the Creating Change Conference, which he attended annually and where he presented some of its most challenging and stimulating material.

For more information about the fund, contact Charles Robbins at


Photos by Linda Kliewer

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