#CC13 – Immigration reform takes center stage at Creating Change

A color guard presented by members of the leather community opened Saturday’s plenary at Creating Change to rousing applause. With a rainbow of LGBT-oriented flags and leather men and women as the backdrop, Alan Penrod, Mr. Leather Sir 2011, and Bryson “Pup Nitro” Hankinson, Mr. Leather Boy 2011, introduced Race Bannon, the 2013 recipient of the Leather Leadership Award.


The Leather Leadership Award presentation.

Bannon is a cofounder of Kink Aware Professionals; a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way the psychotherapy profession views kink; author of the best seller Learning The Ropes: A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun BDSM Lovemaking; founder of Daedalus Publishing Company; co-founder of NLA Los Angeles; and a member of Chicago Hellfire Club.


Race Bannon (on the right) accepts the Leather Leadership Award.

In accepting the award, Bannon said, “This award is truly the highlight of my life. It’s heartening that the NGLTF, what I consider the preeminent LGBT rights organization in the country, considers the leather community worthy of recognition and inclusion.”

Following the award presentation, emcee Kate Clinton introduced Matt Foreman, director of Gay and Immigrant Rights Programs for the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, and Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, national field director of Get EQUAL, to present the 2013 Creating Change Award.

In his introduction of the award recipient Jose Antonio Vargas, Foreman said, “‘Come out, come out, wherever you are’ used to be the theme of our movement. The theory was that people wouldn’t discriminate against someone they knew.” He continued by saying, “Today if an undocumented person comes out, they will be fired and their chance of deportation increases exponentially.”

Jose Antonio Vargas accepts the first-ever

Jose Antonio Vargas (center) accepts the Creating Change Award.

Immigration reform activist Vargas is the founder of Define American, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to elevating and reframing the immigration conversation. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Vargas wrote a June 2012 cover story for Time magazine titled We Are Americans* (*Just not legally) in which he popularized the term “undocumented Americans” in describing the country’s population of 11.5 million undocumented immigrants. In a landmark essay for the New York Times Magazine titled My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant in June 2011, he revealed his undocumented status and declared his mission to speak truthfully about immigration in America in the 21st century.

In describing his path to journalism, Vargas said, “They said I couldn’t be here because I didn’t have the right papers. So I thought maybe I could be here in the paper [with a byline].”

Jose Antonio Vargas delivers a moving speech at Creating Change.

Jose Antonio Vargas delivers a moving speech at Creating Change.

He concluded his acceptance speech by challenging the Creating Change audience: “As immigration reform becomes the key issue of this year, we must advocate for each other so no one is left out of the conversation.”

Vargas then transitioned from award recipient to panel moderator for a group of LGBT and immigration rights activists that included Sousa-Rodriguez, Paulina Helm-Hernandez and Viridiana Martinez.

Panel of activists

Panel immigrant rights activists lead the crowd in a chant of activists

When asked by Vargas why immigration reform and immigration justice were important issues today, the panelists each had a personal perspective:

Martinez: “It’s great that we’re actually talking about this issue. Growing up I was ashamed about being undocumented. With this conversation we need to learn we can come out and we can fight back.”

Sousa-Rodriguez: “I live in constant fear that someone I love will be detained. We need a clear and direct path to citizenship and we need to be very vigilant about what will happen in the next few months … Immigration reform is coming, but it might not necessarily be good.”

Hernandez: “We do live in a structurally racist, homophobic & transphobic society. Our long-term vision is to change that.”

Stay tuned (And you can tune in live) for tomorrow’s closing plenary featuring The Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement presentation to Bishop Gene Robinson and a performance by Grammy-nominated artist Frenchie Davis.

Watch today’s full plenary session below:


To join the LGBT movement in taking action on immigration reform, click here.