Thousands create change in Oakland

By |2005-11-17T09:00:00-05:00November 17th, 2005|News|

OAKLAND, Calif. – Over 60 LGBT activists from Michigan joined more than 2,300 other radical, elderly, young, black, Asian Pacific, button-downed, outrageous, experienced, newly exposed and otherwise diverse activists at the 18th Annual Creating Change Conference Nov. 9 through 12.
“We have to stop shying away from calling out the immoral attacks on us and our families,” said Matt Foremen, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the Washington, D.C. based civil rights group that produces the conference each year, in his welcome speech the first full day of the conference. “We have to insist that all discrimination is immoral!”
Foreman’s defiant tone was echoed throughout the four-day event which included over 160 workshops on topics ranging from LGBT family issues, racial justice, youth issues, faith-based initiatives, fundraising techniques, election strategies and an executive directors’ roundtable workshop. There were also workshops on less expected topics including transgender witches, queerspawn, and a workshop on the care and feeding of the wild activist.
Of course, politics was a hot button topic.
“We must demand that our political allies – and I mean Democrats – stop ducking and running for cover on LGBT issues,” said Foreman as he articulated a growing frustration among LGBT political activists.
Michiganians gathered at a reception sponsored by the Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based LGBT rights group. “Every time I turn around I’m meeting someone from Michigan,” said Foreman, who joined the reception. “It’s like there’s some kinda Michigan mafia here.”
Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle, acknowledged many of the other activists in the room. He started with one of Michigan’s two NGLTF board members, Kathleen Russell.
“Kathleen is one of the world’s best networkers,” said Montgomery. “She seems to know everybody and is constantly encouraging all of us to get to know one another and to work together.”
John Allen, chair of the Ruth Ellis Center board, is the other NGLTF board member from Michigan.
In addition to the Triangle Foundation, which sent most of their staff and board, other Michigan LGBT organizations and student groups that sent staff or volunteers to the conference included the Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Michigan Equality, Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, LGBT groups from Eastern Michigan University and Central Michigan University, Project YES, American Friends Service Committee LGBT Project, the Arcus Foundation and The
Kalamazoo Resource Center.
Urvashi Vaid, the new executive director of the Kalamazoo-based Arcus Foundation, and John D’Emilio, Ph.D., author and professor of LGBT studies at the University of Illinois, jointly presented their visions of the state of the LGBT movement. These longtime friends, both of whom had headed the NGLTF Policy Institute at various times, differed on the specifics but both called for more diversity, more accountability, and more cooperation with our movement’s allies.
“We are more visible than we have ever been, and that is a good thing,” said D’Emilio. “But who represents the LGBT movement to the general population? Ellen and Will – and Rosie, and Melissa, and Barney Frank. All good people who I like and admire, but all white, too.”
D’Emilio said a danger exists if our natural allies in African-American communities can think that “gay equals white,” and that black LGBT people have “gone to the other side.”
Vaid also spoke about the need to make the connections between the LGBT movement and other social justice and progressive movements. She went even further by saying that LGBT issues need to be taken more seriously by those other movements. “Straight people should be made to understand that LGBT liberation will free them too,” said Vaid.
Vaid also called on older activists, some who have been working for over 30 years since the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, to make room for the next generation of LGBT leaders. “Our organizations have grown, and we have become more institutionalized as a movement. That’s generally a good thing, but we must cultivate new leadership through mentoring and skill building of our LGBT youth.”
The conference itself proved empowering, exciting and educational for attendees.
“Fifty years ago in California it was illegal for two or more homosexuals to congregate,” said Helen Zia, a longtime activist and author of “Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People.” She looked out over the thousands of people gathered at the opening session and said, “Seeing you all here today – that’s
creating change!”

About the Author: