In February Denver hosted thousands of LGBT people for Creating Change, the annual conference put on by the National LGBTQ Task Force. I attended for the first time and I must admit that it was a stretch for me: financially, time-wise and even emotionally; but I returned to my home in South Florida all the better.
It was an experience that has inoculated me with a renewed desire for community involvement and I’m going to plant the seeds of new ideas here at home. I want to share my experiences and observations so that you might be inclined to start a discussion within your community to go to next year’s conference in Chicago.
First off, let me make clear that I am not affiliated with the National LGBTQ Task Force or Creating Change in any way. I am a 52-year-old progressive Latina queer who burned out with her activism in the 1990’s and is now returning to political work, with a healthier foundation and a lot of life lessons under my belt.
While my former activism revolved mostly around anti racism efforts and campaigns, I am now seeking to reengage with community activism within the LGBTQ community. I chose to spend my money to attend Creating Change because of its reputation for progressive politics as well as social connections.
With a couple thousand attendees, hundreds (I think) of workshops covering close to thirty topics, and scores of social gatherings to choose from, I was able to create an experience that suited my particular interests. Several times, I wished I could be in two places at once because the workshops were so varied and interesting.
Indeed, I went to the conference with a rough idea of what topic tracks I was going to attend (anti racism, bi organizing, arts and activism), only to change workshop tracks radically (anti racism, sexual freedom, body politics, aging). I opted to arrive early to take part in two all day intensives: the Racial Justice Institute and the Desire Mapping Institute.
As a person of color, I was glad to see the conference addressed racial justice work throughout the meeting from the starting Institute, the opening plenary and its own workshop track. I was also happy to see young, queer and trans activists of color in attendance who disrupted plenaries with demonstrations in response to a local police shooting of Latina queer youth Jessica Hernandez and the perceived lack of involvement of the Ferguson organizers from the opening plenary discussion about Post Ferguson political climate.
I cannot point to one single thing that I most benefited from at Creating Change; but the energy I brought back to South Florida is singularly more connected to the larger LGBTQ community than I have felt since my early ‘baby dyke’ years.
The frank discussions about sexual desires explored with others in Desire Mapping, the trust body exercises with a partner in the Exploring Justice in the Body workshop, the impromptu rally and vigil for Jessica Hernandez and seeing the large number of white queers working with other white queers to tackle the issue of white privilege, all coalesced to move me in a way I could not get to in any other way than with a large venue such as this.
This is why gatherings such as these are important to join. We cannot get that refueling and political expansion from blogs and our usual modes of interactions alone. We need to be pushed beyond our comfort zone by movements, by people who are allies but with whom we may never engage with in our daily lives. We need to witness and inhale the fervor of those involved in the vast arrays of political advocacy and change making in the LGBTQ community. We need to be there, with others.
Not surprisingly, conferences such as this have a large contingent from college campuses, the birthing bed of political activism for most organizers. I talked with a lot of college youths and heard that many were sent via their schools through one fund or another. And that is as it should be. But it got me thinking about how those of us out of school and supporting ourselves could get support and assistance to attend this type of venue.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could work with our local community groups to fundraise to help send some members to activist oriented conferences such as this?
Collectively, our community needs to invest in activist retention and training and venues such as this could go a long way in those regards. I urge all LGBTQ people to think about how they could benefit their community by going to next year’s Creating Change; start a discussion with other activists about fundraising to help us send people. We need to continue growing in our political awareness and commitment to fight the anti-LGBTQ right that is ever stronger in the U.S. today. It is an investment in our community.