Highlights from the opening plenary at Creating Change

The 23rd National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change got under way with a packed-house opening plenary tonight that focused on a roundtable panel on how to embrace faith in the struggle for LGBT equality. The plenary was hosted by comic and social commentator Kate Clinton and pro-LGBT Minneapolis Mayor RT Ryback welcomed participants to the conference and the city.


The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, the Task Force’s faith work director, led the opening keynote discussion “Practice spirit, Do justice: Hard work for our common good” with prominent pro-LGBT faith leaders. They discussed the importance of bridging the gap between secular and faith communities to achieve full equality and justice.

The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Faisal Alam, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rabbi Joshua Lesser and Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson during the keynote discussion.

The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, vehemently reminded the LGBT rights movement about combating fundamentalists who try to demean the humanity of LGBT people, that “no one understands them like us, so you need us to defeat their agenda.” Meanwhile, Rabbi Joshua Lesser, who leads the growing Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, mentioned how difficult is to be an LGBT person of faith by recounting “how at rabbi school they didn’t even know what transgender means and how secular LGBT people are wary of the topic of religion because it’s the symbol of oppression.”

Talking about the similarities of the Black Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT rights movement, the Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of City of Refuge Community Church UCC, said that both groups have found the “power to endure among physical, emotional and spiritual attack comes from a divine well.” Faisal Alam, founder of Al-Fatiha, spoke of the importance of the LGBT rights movement of “speaking up and standing up for other social justice movements if we want to achieve a more just world for all of us.”

In closing, Wilson reminded the audience that “it requires faith of some kind to be an activist for social change, so we need to find common ground on our common values between secular and faith activists.” Finally, Flunder emphatically said that “we must confront the negative religious messages with the positive religious messages of love”, if we want to change the world.

The First Nation’s Collective Coya Artichoker and Melissa Pope asked the crowd to take a moment to honor the land.

Roberto Tijerina spoke about the importance of linguistic inclusion and announced the availability of Spanish and American Sign Language translation services at Creating Change.

Sue Hyde, director of Creating Change and Russell Roybal Deputy Executive Director for External Relations talk about the choice of Minneapolis, MN for the 23rd National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.

Rebecca Harvey, from Reconciling Ministries and Sarah Coulter, with One Bowling Green thanked the Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action for helping them win change in their communities.

Creating Change Co-Chairs: Kevin Xiong, Alfonso Wenker, Kelly Lewis and Rev. Dr. Robyn Provis thanked the Host Committee and all of the conference volunteers for their dedication and commitment to Creating Change.

Robert Espinoza, senior director, policy & communications, Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) presented the SAGE Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues to PFund Foundation Co-Executive Directors Susan Raffo and Kate Eubank.

Kate Clinton also urged everyone to take action before ending the night, and Tell the Senate “Hands Off Social Security!” You can join in by signing our online petition here.