Rea Carey delivers ‘State of the LGBT Movement’ at Creating Change

Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey Delivers the "State of the LGBT Movement" at Creating Change.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey presented the annual “State of the LGBT Movement” address today at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, in Baltimore, Md., where nearly 3,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates have gathered to strategize and mobilize to advance LGBT equality and social justice in this critical election year.

If you want to see Carey’s standalone speech, watch here:


You can also read the full text of Carey’s speech after the jump:

This has already been an awesome conference and we’re just getting warmed up!

How about Ben Jealous’ speech last night! We will stand with Ben Jealous and the NAACP.

And Joan Biren’s reminder of the power of images, of art in social change.

Welcome to Creating Change 2012! A special welcome to my family and friends from D.C. who are here today.

As I was preparing for Creating Change this year, my daughter and I were singing along to the brilliant musical, Wicked — specifically, the song, Defying Gravity, and it gave me some inspiration — not my singing, but the song.

Yes, I know, a particularly gay move on my part; a Broadway show as inspiration for my remarks… thus revealing my gender queerness as a gay man.

And, yes, we do have a conference session for that.

We also have one for Newt Gingrich and his open marriage, (score one on your Kate Clinton bingo card). But I digress.

As the song Defying Gravity starts in the musical, the people of Oz shout that Elphaba — known eventually as the Wicked Witch — is evil, wicked, to be feared and driven away.

In her questioning the status quo, what those in Oz hold to be true, in standing up for others, Elphaba gives voice to challenging limitations, to not playing the game, to doing something extraordinary… and she flies.

The feeling of defying gravity is one that I suspect is, in some ways, familiar to many of us here.

To work against the forces that drag us down as human beings, that pull us down and limit us as a movement, that portray us as something that we are not.

Yes, LGBT people have been called a repulsion, a harm to society. We have been called wicked.

The fact that we have made it this far, surviving childhood taunts, the neglect of churches and schools, the laws and policies of a country that have treated us as criminals… This is already a testament to our ability to defy gravity.

Individually — and more often together — we’ve worked for and achieved what many couldn’t even envision.

We have done what some thought impossible, but we know is inevitable.

So, here we are together again at Creating Change, sharing strategies on overcoming the challenges that face us, learning from each other how to defy gravity.

I know you sacrificed to be here.

You had to save up, take a bus, or squeeze a bunch of people into a van to get here.

It says everything that during one of our nation’s most challenging economic times, we have our biggest Creating Change conference ever.

Thank you for doing what you had to do to get here.

Creating Change would not be the same — and would not be possible — without you.

Some days it feels like we aren’t making progress, but we have come a long way since the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. In fact, the pace of our progress and our pursuit of justice has accelerated in the last few years.

And not just because the last of my high school crushes, Kristy McNichol finally came out after being with her partner for 20 years.

I’m just waiting for Velma of Scooby-Doo to come out and my list will be complete.

2012 will be an important year because of us and of what we will achieve together…
Because we in this room and those who can’t be with us but share our vision, will work for a transformed society in which no one feels they must hide who they are or who they love, not for 20 years, not for even one day.

In this past year alone, with our work together…

• We passed statewide, transgender nondiscrimination laws in Connecticut, Nevada, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

• We passed birth certificate laws eliminating surgical standards for transgender people in California and Vermont.

• We defeated the anti-trans bill in Maine that would have allowed discrimination against transgender people in sex-segregated spaces.

• Bullying-prevention policies that specifically protect LGBT youth are now in some unexpected places, including Dallas, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; Oklahoma City; and the entire state of Arkansas.

• We finally brought an end to DADT.

And remarkably, despite the right-wing heebie jeebies about having gay, lesbian and bisexual people serve in the military, when Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta gave her partner a much-publicized kiss, it didn’t sink her ship or the marriages of the crew!

And remember, her ship docked in Virginia!

This year:

• Our Task Force organizers helped raise seed money and taught activists how to build a bigger team for an LGBT nondiscrimination law that will be on the ballot this spring in Anchorage, Alaska.

• We trained activists and mobilized voters to fend off a threat to Traverse City, Michigan’s existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

• Here in Maryland, a gender identity anti-discrimination bill was introduced, and this Monday Governor Martin O’Malley formally introduced the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

• And, just 24 hours ago, after two years of public education, field organizing, signature-gathering, and just plain old knocking on more than one hundred thousand doors, Equality Maine; Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders; and the Why Marriage Matters Maine Coalition delivered over 105,000 signatures to the statehouse, announcing that they will make Maine the first state to go to the ballot box with a proactive measure to pursue marriage equality.

And then, they hopped on planes to get here for Creating Change!

We at the Task Force are honored to have helped in many of these efforts and to have worked with our colleagues in the statewide equality organizations.

And, speaking of relationships, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island and Delaware now have civil unions in place and, it is now legal to get married in the state of New York!

Congratulations to the activists in all these states and others that made gains this year.

We also made progress in many states where Task Force staff engaged in the broad range of issues affecting LGBT people and their families:

• In Mississippi, we joined our women’s health and reproductive justice allies to defeat the anti-choice personhood measure.

• In California, we partnered with the ACLU of Southern California to gather signatures for a future campaign to abolish the state’s death penalty, disproportionately affecting people of color.

• And in Maine, we helped beat back one of the many recent attacks on the very right to vote in this country. If we had lost that vote, we wouldn’t be seeing marriage or other progressive advances anytime soon in Maine.

And federal progress has been made as well. Despite a Congress that has proven resistant to any LGBT-specific legislation, our work to build alliances, our strategic thinking and our mobilization has led to progress.

Like getting LGBT people explicitly included in the Health Equity and Accountability Act; in the HOME bill — Housing Opportunities Made Equal — and in the Violence Against Women Act.

These are all bills that are not LGBT-specific but with our hard work are becoming LGBT inclusive and have the potential to affect the economic security and quality of life for hundreds of thousands of LGBT people and their families.

I know 300 of you participated in our first-ever Creating Change Lobby Day yesterday and I thank you for sharing your lives to change minds in Congress. You were amazing!

And we are not stopping with inclusion in bills. We are after concrete changes that make our lives better.

The Task Force’s New Beginning Initiative, a coalition of 26 organizations, has been working diligently to improve the lives of LGBT people and our families in tangible, meaningful ways by changing federal policies.

And together, as a community, with the Obama administration, we have improved lives.

When the executive branch issues guidelines to assist LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and the Department of Justice states for the first time, “We consider LGBT families to be families” — we made life better.

When the Department of Veterans Affairs issues a national directive to all of its health facilities regarding the appropriate and respectful care of transgender veterans, we made life better.

When LGBT families can no longer be turned away from public housing or a home loan, we made life better.

When we get to say who our families are so we can be by each others’ side when we are sick or hurt in a hospital, we made life better.

And this past year, because of your advocacy and the Obama administration’s actions, that became the case in over 90 percent of hospitals, like Rolling Hills Hospital in Tennessee, and Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md.

In both these hospitals, when they turned away partners at the door, and they were reminded of the federal rules, they had to apologize to the families and train their staff. This rule has teeth and hospitals are being held accountable.

When we hear these words from a White House cabinet member:

“Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

“To LGBT men and women worldwide: Wherever you live and whatever your circumstances…please know that you are not alone.”

We most definitely made life better.

Thank you, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama for the presidential memorandum that went with it.

The truth is — we can both appreciate our progress yet feel frustrated by the incomplete and sometimes slow pace of change. There is still much work ahead.

We know the truth in the old adage that when the people lead, the leaders will follow. Creating Change family, we will be called upon to lead in this coming year.

We will have to play both offense and defense this year with marriage in play here in Maryland and in Washington, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and North Carolina… and we will be called to lead.

In states across the country, we must press forward on securing protections for people who experience discrimination because of their gender identity, including Michigan, New York and right here in Maryland. And we will be called to lead.

In some states, like Oregon, hard but strategic and disciplined decisions have been made, to not push for marriage until the time is right to use our movement’s resources well — and to win. They have expressed leadership in doing so.

Many of you will be called to lead in your communities on immigration reform, making schools safe, fighting anti-affirmative action measures, and on economic justice and transgender rights.

But what’s important to remember is that leading doesn’t have to mean winning. I know we won’t win in all of these places but what I do know is that we are strong and determined and that with perseverance like ours, we cannot be denied for long.

We cannot stop until the abuses of transgender immigrant detainees stop.

We cannot stop until our brothers and sisters who can now openly serve in the military can share their benefits with their spouses and until transgender people can choose to serve.

We can’t be fully free if after 30 years of AIDS, we know more about prevention and treatment than ever before but infection rates for gay and bisexual men — especially for men of color — are actually rising while funding and services are decreasing.

Progress for some is not progress for all and we will not stop until we are all fully free.

There are some challenges in our pursuit of freedom that are just beginning for us — challenges other movements before us have seen.

One challenge is that we’ve already won! Oh, you didn’t get the memo?

Ninety percent of voters already believe we have federal employment protections — and this includes LGBT people who end up surprised when they are fired from their jobs and they have no recourse.

Over the last 20 years, we have been so successful at winning employment protections in cities and states — that now over 52 percent of people live in a jurisdiction with sexual orientation discrimination protections, and 44 percent with gender identity protections. And many more have protections through labor contracts or corporate employment policies. But what about LGBT people who live in the states without employment protections or work for companies that don’t include us in their policies?

Ninety percent of voters think there is already a federal employment protections law, which makes it a bit of a challenge to mobilize them to fight for one.

And why would they, when we already have a law?

Except we don’t!

In order to defy gravity, to not stall out, we must make clear to decision-makers, our friends and family, that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people go to work each day, terrified that someone will find out who they are or who they love.

And we need a federal law to protect them.

And our second challenge… well, marriage.

Marriage puts us between the rock of limited, hard won and celebrated successes — and the hard place of positive yet almost singular media attention.

Specifically, now that we’ve overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” many now believe that our movement is about one thing and one thing only — marriage.

So let’s talk about marriage.

The richness of our families and how we create them — whether we choose to get married or not — when our families are ignored or denied, the very institution of marriage is weakened, not strengthened.

And we won’t stop fighting until the choice to get married is the law of the land everywhere, for everyone who wants it.

But that’s not all we’re fighting for. The LGBT movement is not a movement for marriage only. It is a movement for the full dignity of our lives, for a transformed society.

The challenge is, when the LGBT movement is framed by the media and seen by others as a single-issue, marriage-only movement, it limits what we can achieve.

The spotlight on wins, losses and steps toward marriage creates a lot of excitement and energy and directs much-needed funding toward our movement for our work on marriage.

Marriage has motivated our allies and captured the attention of people who weren’t paying attention before.

But someday, someday when we succeed in nationwide recognition of our marriages, and even along the way, we will likely see that the engagement in our movement will drop off. Severely.

Where we have achieved marriage already, there has been a significant drop in donations, attention and engagement for our movement’s organizations. Some have had to lay off staff even while struggling to get attention for other very pressing issues.

We have learned that with a win, we usually have to turn right around and defend that win.

We also know that people who aren’t included in that win remain vulnerable to discrimination.

We’ve seen this dynamic before in other movements.

Consider the women’s movement and Roe v. Wade.

Almost 40 years after the Supreme Court decision declaring a woman’s reproductive decisions are hers to make, women and men still must fight everyday to stop the erosion of reproductive health services for women.

The lesson here is that we must continue to build public support for our gains, whether court decisions or legislative victories.

The Roe decision did something else, too. It added to the women’s movement being seen as a single-issue movement — abortion.

So, over the last 40 years, it has been a challenge to get equal pay for equal work; to create appropriate and affordable childcare in this country; to get full equality for women.

Think about it.

If we could all choose to get married anywhere if we wanted to, without limitation, if a marriage in one state was recognized as a marriage in all states — would all our aspirations be fulfilled?

Would society be transformed such that all of us, every one of us, live in dignity and with full respect, from cradle to grave?

Of course not.

At the Task Force, we say we’re more. At the Task Force, we say we want more than marriage — there is no singular solution to the many ways we experience discrimination, violence and bigotry.

At the Task Force we insist that immigration, and housing, and health care and fair wages and Social Security and ending systemic racism and sexism are all LGBT issues.

Now don’t hear me wrong. I will fight like hell for marriage equality. And I am proud to be married to Margaret.

And, within the existing structure of how benefits are provided in this country, if we don’t overturn the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” and secure marriage across the country, we will hit a brick wall in the changes we seek for LGBT people and our families in immigration policies, in Social Security benefits, in the very economic underpinnings that give us security.

So, in this political moment, while our movement is experiencing intensely focused attention because of marriage, we must take advantage of this moment by pushing to make visible the fullest scope of the social change we seek.

We in the LGBT movement must defy the gravitational pull that frames ours as a single-issue movement.

I know we can overcome these challenges, with work, we’ve done it before.

We’ve been at this a long time at the Task Force, and we know from experience that a win remains a win only if we sustain it and build on it and stay fully engaged.

And 2012 will require a lot of political engagement. The sheer number of pieces of state legislation and ballot measures that will affect the lives of LGBT people this year are staggering. And our collective work on all of those will be important.

But there is one issue that we all must pay attention to this year.

Our opposition — those who do not believe in our full humanity or equality are on the attack. But, mobilizing the right-wing base to come out and vote on marriage isn’t actually their trump card anymore — it’s much deeper than that.

It’s the very ability to cast a vote.

They could derail our progress for years by focusing on something that our movement could easily mistake as not “our” issue. Believe me, it is our issue when we or our allies find ourselves without easy access to the polls.

2012 promises to be a harder playing field than 2011 because the political playing field itself is under threat.

There is a systematic effort in states across the country to take the vote away from people of color, students, the working poor and unemployed, people who’ve lost their homes, young voters, people with disabilities and the elderly.

A plan to cut out the base of progressive voters from the process. This massive voter suppression effort is also having a devastating effect on the ability of transgender people to vote.

We’re talking about executive orders in 14 states and 20 new laws that make it harder for 5 million people to vote this year. Ben shared stories last night.

It’s one of the last desperate ploys by those who can no longer compete with the power of their ideas.

Voter suppression laws — some taken right out of the Jim Crow playbook — are part of a series of strategies to take away the voting rights of millions and keep this nation’s decision-making power in the hands of a few.

Having lost ground on LGBT and racial justice and equality over the last 40 years, and not having enough respect for our democracy to accept it, the right is now doing all it can to complicate the rules to register, get a ballot, vote early — you name it, they’ll do it, if it disenfranchises certain types of voters.

And so we are called to lead and to protect access to voting. This is in our self-interest and in the interest of our allies! We are people of color, we are students, we are transgender.

And if that weren’t enough, let’s look at where these voter-suppression laws are being put to a vote.

Of course, many of these laws have been implemented or are on the ballot in the South. Don’t get me started.

And, over two dozen bills or ballot measures will be in play in the next two years, including in Michigan, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina…ring a bell?

Michigan, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina.

If we do not protect the right to vote, we will not win on immigration, we will not win on nondiscrimination, we will not protect affirmative action and we will not win on marriage.

We must register the voters the right doesn’t want registered. We must get the voters to the polls the right is trying to keep from the polls.

In this coming election, we stand for ourselves by also standing for and with others. We stand for ourselves by occupying the voting booth.

Yes, we have come to this again — to vote is an act of resistance. But it is also an act of insistence. We insist that all potential voters have a voice.

As people who know more than our share about mistreatment, inequality and unfairness, this is our fight.

So in this room full of the best grassroots activists I know, I say, occupy the vote! Vote. Take others to the polls if you can’t vote yet. Speak out against voter suppression.

And if you get to the ballot box and you are turned away for any reason, I want you cast a provisional ballot, to document your story, post it on Facebook, tweet it, and contact the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, let people know this is happening.

And to help you in this act of insistence, we have set up a voter registration table in the exhibit hall. And, you can text “Vote2012” to 69866 to pledge to vote and to get more information about voter registration.

Next year, the Task Force will turn 40.

Since 1973, the Task Force has been building power, taking action and creating change. We have been defying gravity. We were the first national LGBT advocacy organization and turning 40 makes you think.

Just as when we opened our doors, we must be fearless and driven by innovation and the power to envision what some think impossible.

That’s what Creating Change has always been all about: learning, innovation, developing strategies to win, the next big ideas, bringing people together to push the boundaries of what is possible and move us all forward.

What does defying gravity look like?

Defying gravity means creating space or breaking ground for others.

It looks like a gay man volunteering on a pro-choice campaign.

It looks like an immigrant who is HIV-positive, telling his story of detention mistreatment despite risking deportation, because people held in immigration custody deserve dignity, respect and access to medication.

It looks like Girl Scouts in Colorado standing up for a trans girl joining their troop, and launching a national “buycott” of Thin Mints, Samoas, Do-Si-Dos.

It looks like a trans high school student holding her head high as she walks through the hallways with pride and confidence in herself, no matter what others think or say.

Defying gravity means we do something despite fear, criticism or negative consequences. It is digging deep to tap our own strength to resist that which attempts to hold us down.

It looks like the ideas, innovation and passion in this room.

This is our time to defy gravity and to Create Change.

Thank you and enjoy the conference!