Tuesday, January 29, 2013

We Are Family

A Creating Change Workshop Session with
LGBT Movement Leaders from China and Taiwan

Post by Laura Kiritsy, Manager of Public Education

It’s hard to know where to start when trying to wrap up my experience at this year’s Creating Change, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s annual conference for LGBT activists and leaders, which took me, along with my colleagues Eva Boyce, Janson Wu and Robbie Samuels, to Atlanta last week. I’m still savoring memories of Krispy Kreme donuts, which were readily available in the Hilton Atlanta lobby. With all due respect to Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m still baffled by Krispy Kreme’s crash and burn in New England.

But I digress. Carb-laden confections certainly were not the best thing about this year’s Creating Change.

Truly, the most gratifying part for me was the strong attendance at the workshop I co-presented with Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and Stephanie Perkins, the deputy director at Promoting Equality for All Missourians (better known as PROMO), Missouri’s statewide LGBT organization. Titled “From Bathroom Panic to Basic Rights: Winning the Message War on Trans Rights Legislation,” the workshop was a chance to share with other activists the lessons we learned in combating our opponents’ mythological message that trans-inclusive non-discrimination laws will some how open up women’s restrooms to male predators looking to assault women and young children. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s proven effective in stoking fear among the electorate, from Massachusetts to Missouri, and beyond. More than 40 people turned out for our workshop, which, if I do say so myself, was pretty impressive for a Friday morning at 9 a.m.. Never mind the fact that we were also competing with my colleague Robbie’s popular and likewise informative workshop, “The Art of the Schmooze.”

I’d like to think we gave folks who are working to pass trans rights bills some practical tools for passing this legislation. I met folks from West Virginia who are gearing up to push for a non-discrimination law and a college student who is leading an effort to create trans-friendly restrooms on her Canadian campus. Mason Dunn, a New Hampshire activist who is featured in We Are New Hampshire: Transgender Lives in the Granite State, also turned up. And I was excited to see a familiar young face of the next generation of activists: Jazz Jennings, a transgender ’tween who has been periodically profiled by Barbara Walters on 20/20, attended our workshop with her mom, Jeanette.

With my workshop out of the way early on, I was free to catch Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s inspiring State of the Movement speech at the Friday afternoon plenary. But before Carey took the stage, the thousands of people crowded into the Grand Ballroomwere treated to a surprise greeting (via pre-recorded video) from President Obama, the first sitting president to address a Creating Change conference.

“I’ve always said that the change we need in this country — real change — doesn’t come from Washington, it comes from folks like you,” said Obama. “Change has always come from ordinary Americans who sit in or stand up or marched to demand it. … With your help, we will continue the journey to perfect our union. The work will be hard, the road will be long, but I’m more confident than ever that we will reach a better future as long as Americans like you keep reaching for justice — and all of us keep marching together.”

Carey’s speech also emphasized a theme of partnership as a way to advance LGBT equality. She noted that, last year, the Task Force dedicated staff, financial resources and its grassroots organizing expertise not only to the four state marriage campaigns (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington State), but also to the successful Maryland DREAM Act Campaign and the unsuccessful bid to outlaw the death penalty in California.

Working in coalition on other progressive causes has paid off in terms of other organizations reciprocating that support, Carey said, noting that the LGBT community’s recent electoral successes are more meaningful and more lasting because it wasn’t just LGBT people who worked for or celebrated our victories.

“In fact, some of the first calls and e-mails I got when the president came out for marriage and when marriage equality won in state after state, were from leaders of civil rights, labor, women’s and other non-LGBT organizations,” Carey told the crowd. “If there is one message we can take away from Election Night 2012, it is that we are not alone. We are not alone as a movement, as a people, and we need to make sure no one else is alone either.”

But my favorite part of Carey’s speech, which also summed up the spirit of the conference, is when she talked at length about the Task Force, and the entire LGBT community as a family. Yes, Carey acknowledged, it’s a little cliché to talk that way, and I definitely don’t disagree. But it was hard not to believe in the LGBT family after she noted that through the sponsorship of the LA LGBT Center, a group of more than 20 LGBT activists from China and Taiwan were able to attend Creating Change – the founders of the LGBT movement in their respective countries, Carey noted. They were greeted with thunderous applause when Carey welcomed them “to our family” and asked them to stand and be recognized.

It was impossible to not be inspired when Carey said, “I believe that all movements need guiding principles and values, a True North, and that ours must be love, commitment and compassion — but it must be an expansive love; a broad commitment to the many ways we create family; and compassion that leads to action for those who are marginalized.”
And it was hard not to cheer – particularly when contemplating all the work that is yet to be done to achieve complete transgender equality -- when Carey wrapped up her speech by declaring, “We are family and we will not leave any of you behind!”

I plan to do my part in the coming year to ensure that no member of our LGBT family is left behind. I hope you’ll join me.

Boston Represents at Creating Change: 
My colleague Robbie Samuels with Ellyn Ruthstrom from the Bisexual Resource Center and Jess Green from Socializing for Justice

No comments: