Renowned for its ability to bring LGBTQ activists of all kinds together, the national Creating Change Conference is also known for recognizing those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to make change in their own way. This year, the conference will be held from Jan. 23 through 27 at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center and will honor five chosen individuals and one organization for their work and dedication toward the LGBTQ movement. Each of whom will speak about their work as they receive their individual awards. This year’s honoree schedule lasts throughout the conference:
Thursday, Jan. 24 – 10 p.m. Plenary Session
Cornelius Wilson – SAGE Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues
Friday, Jan. 25 – 1:30 p.m State of the Movement Address/Plenary Session
Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz – The Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement
International Pronouns Day – A 2019 Special Recognition by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Saturday, Jan. 26 – 1:30 p.m. Movement Moments: #MeToo/Plenary Session
Jonathan Jayes-Green – Haas, Jr. Award for Outstanding LGBTQ Leadership for Immigrant Rights
Shane Shananaquet – The Youth Leadership Award
Sunday, Jan. 27 – 11:30 a.m. Brunch/Plenary Session
Peter Fiske – Leather Leadership Award
Fiske is the West Coast chairman of the Stonewall Veterans Association and was present during police raids at the historic gay bar. In addition, he has been a leatherman since 1964, was named Leather Daddy XXXI of San Francisco and has served with many organizations dedicated to aiding LGBTQ people. Despite all of his decades-long work, he said he was shocked when he heard the news.
“I got notified in November before it was made public and I was very shocked and surprised and very honored,” Fiske said. “It’s especially poignant because I’m a lifelong activist and I’m a Stonewall veteran.”
When asked if he ever imagined that he would be honored in such a way, he said, “Absolutely not.”
“I never imagined that we would be able to serve in the military, that we would be able to get married, that in most states we would have protection from discrimination in employment and housing, and I’m thrilled,” he said. “And I do hope the younger generation understands that there are still miles to go and we can’t stop now. I’ll refer to that in my speech; the voices from Stonewall and the people we lost, they cry out to me to say, ‘keep going.’ We have to fight for everything we get and we mustn’t fight each other. We fight those who would take away our rights, those who are our enemies, who have made themselves our enemies.”
Wilson agrees. As a founder of SAGE, a lifelong HIV/AIDS activist and current member of the Southeast Michigan HIV/AIDS Council, he said that he’s thrilled to have received recognition, but that’s not why he does the work he does.
“I do what I do because I’m part of the community that needs help. … There was a point in time where there were folks not willing to serve folks like myself: gay, black, HIV-positive — all of those things rolled into one person,” Wilson said. “So, being recognized with the awards is great. It speaks to the fact that folks are kind of watching me. I didn’t realize they were paying that much attention, but I do what I do because I figure the best way to open doors for others is to first open doors for myself.”
Shananaquet started his activism in his early teens, long before many people are brave enough to be public about their LGBTQ identity. Currently, he is a member of the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health’s youth advisory council and a youth ambassador for the Tyler Clementi Foundation. He said that he didn’t realize that he was doing activism work when he started it.
“When I started advocating for others, I didn’t even know what activism was. I just talked about what I liked. I had no idea I would receive awards or receive recognition for my work,” Shananaquet said, adding that age is no indicator of one’s abilities to make a difference. “Find nonprofits or school groups that are advocating and have fun with it. Speak your truth and you’ll be heard.”
In addition to receiving the award, he’ll be facilitating a workshop on health disparities among youth that “he’s quite excited about!”
Included among the awardees is Green, who beyond fighting for LGBTQ rights for people of color, has fought for those of undocumented immigrants as well. Green was not available for comment before the date of publication.
“[He] is one of the cofounders and the Director of the UndocuBlack Network, a multigenerational Network of black undocumented immigrants organizing their own communities and building power,” said event organizers. “UBN focuses on deportation defense, advocacy, wellness and storytelling. Jonathan believes freedom and liberation is possible when we organize and center the voices and leadership of those directly impacted.”
With Horowitz and Stevenson winning awards, Between The Lines is represented this year at Creating Change, too. Both publishers said that they were stunned when they heard the news they won.
The final award will go to International Pronouns Day, an organization, founded by Shige Sakurai (they/them) and co-chaired by Genny Beemyn (they/them), dedicated to making it commonplace for everyone to respect, share and ask personal pronouns.
“Providing a platform for grassroots transformation by encouraging conversations about pronouns, names and respect as an entry point into broader work on trans issues, intersecting oppressions and violence, International Pronouns day promotes best practices and policies that support inclusive communities,” organizers said. “The inaugural event took place on Oct. 17, 2018, and had registrants from over 25 countries, representing every continent except Antarctica, and was endorsed by over 400 organizations, including over 150 college groups.”
To find a full schedule of events and more information about the conference visit creatingchange.org.