Largest-ever Creating Change off to a rousing start!

We started the day by making history with the first-ever Creating Change Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., today! Five buses full of hundreds of LGBT rights advocates left from the Baltimore Hilton and made their way to Capitol Hill. Activists took to the halls of Congress to lobby their senators and representatives. We delivered a clear message: It’s time to pass legislation that will provide workplace protections for LGBT people, equal pay for equal work, bully-free safe schools and anti-violence programs that are LGBT-inclusive.

Citizen lobbyists hard at work.

For many activists it was not only their first time lobbying, but also their first time in our nation’s capital. The day was energizing and the presence of hundreds of LGBT people and allies meeting with their elected officials on Capitol Hill demonstrated our movement’s political power. In addition to their lobby meetings, participants heard from Hill staffers and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) about the importance of sharing their stories to change hearts and minds to ultimately pass legislation that will benefit LGBT people.

Let's hear it for our citizen lobbyists creating change on Capitol Hill!

In addition to Lobby Day, there were more than 12 day-long institutes on a variety of topics ranging from “Building a Queer AAPI Movement” to “LGBTQ Youth Organizing.” And Twitter was full of great tips that came out of the New Media Training Institute through the #cc12 hashtag!

The evening events kicked-off with a reception opened by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who welcomed conference attendees to Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with Dana Beyer, director of Gender Rights Maryland.

After the mayor spoke, Maryland’s First Lady Katie O’Malley addressed the crowd. She highlighted her support for LGBT rights, mentioning the need to win the freedom to marry in the state, combating violence and discrimination against transgender people, and the need to create safe spaces for LGBT youth.

Maryland First Lady Katie O'Malley with Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey.

The last event of the day was the opening plenary, which began with a prayer led by the First Nations Collective.

The First Nations Collective

Task Force Deputy Executive Director of External Affairs Russell Roybal and Creating Change Director Sue Hyde then gave the official welcome to the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Hyde welcomed the crowd of nearly 3,000 LGBT allies “to the most fabulous, fierce, fresh and fun confab of transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and straight allies ever.” Meanwhile, Roybal reminded the participants that “we convene again to continue our march toward freedom, justice and equality for all people.”

Hyde and Roybal introduced the mistress of ceremonies, “Lady Ha Ha” Kate Clinton, who joked about the latest occurrences in the LGBT community. Clinton then welcomed the host committee co-chairs Sharon Brackett, the Rev. Mother Meredith Moises, the Rev. Sam Offer and Matthew Thorn, who talked about the work leading up to the conference.

The opening plenary keynote speech was delivered by Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. As an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights and under his leadership, the NAACP launched its LGBT Equality Task Force in 2009, a partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition. Most recently, the Baltimore NAACP chapter joined the steering committee of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the broad and diverse coalition working to bring civil marriage equality to Maryland.

Jealous gave a rousing speech in which he talked about how the “LGBT struggle is a cause dear to my heart,” and how me must fight to end racial, economic, sexual and gender discrimination because “oppression is oppression is oppression.” He also talked about the importance of continuing to fight united until all people “can live in a country free of discrimination, hatred or violence.” Jealous delivered one of the most applauded lines of his speech when he said that any “child who is being bullied in school doesn’t have access to a fair education.”

Watch a clip of Jealous’s speech:


Closing the plenary, Hyde handed the Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement to “our good friend Joan E. Biren, known around the world by her photographic byline, JEB.” Biren is a prolific photographer whose photographs became the book, Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians, the first collection of photographs of lesbians by a lesbian ever published. She also expanded her documentary palette by making films and founding Moonforce Media. Highlighting the scope of her work, Hyde poignantly said, “for four decades, Joan E. Biren has given us the most simple and profound gift: permanent and cherished images of ourselves.”

Joan E. Biren accepting the Susan J. Hyde Award.

Following the plenary, participants received a special treat — a Creating Change cake by Charm City Cakes.

The Creating Change cake from Charm City Cakes!