Not surprisingly, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is excited about the start of the 24th Creating Change conference, now underway in Baltimore.
This year, the Task Force expects a record-breaking crowd of about 3,000 LGBT activists and their allies to come together for a weekend of celebrating victories, analyzing losses and developing strategies for moving forward in the challenging political and social landscape of 2012.
“This conference is where many of us got our start as LGBT activists,” Carey says. “It brings together an amazingly diverse array of people from across the country and around the world.”
There are, for example, workshop tracks on aging, arts and culture, disability, community centers and community organizing, fundraising, legislative challenges and the 2012 elections, families, gender issues, campus mobilization, labor, religion, people of color, the transgender community and sexual freedom. In addition, the conference started with day-long skill-building and networking institutes and the first-ever Creating Change Lobby Day where activists traveled to Capitol Hill to brief their congressional delegations on the spectrum of issues facing gay and lesbian Americans.
Carey notes that two of the most active contingents this year are youth and elected officials. “We have a large contingent of young people who are working in their high schools and colleges and in their communities to create progressive change. We will also have more elected and appointed officials participating in the conference than we ever have before.”
Conference attendees come together for a series of plenary sessions emceed by lesbian comedian Kate Clinton. This year, the plenaries include a state-of-the-movement address by Carey, a panel on international issues moderated by Cary Alan Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and a performance by gay actor and activist Wilson Cruz. Blade editor Kevin Naff moderates a panel on national politics with the Victory Fund’s Robin Brand, Equality Forum’s Malcolm Lazin and Equality Federation’s Rebecca Isaacs Friday at 3 p.m.
The highlight of this year’s conference is the keynote address by Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP. Jealous comes from a long line of civil rights advocates and has become a straight ally in the fight for LGBT equality.
“We are deeply honored to have one of the best civil rights leaders in the country address us and I am sure he will be speaking from the heart,” Carey said.
Jealous has spoken movingly of the struggles faced by his gay brother, whom he describes as “the closest person to me in the world,” and remembers how they fought together against childhood bullies. Working with NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond, Jealous created a LGBT Equality Task Force at the NAACP to help the African-American community fight the challenges of homophobia and transgender discrimination.
Jealous and the national office of the NAACP were staunch opponents of Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage measure in California, but Jealous notes that lack of outreach to the African-American community was in issue in the loss. At last year’s NAACP convention, Jealous said, “If folks really wanted to win on Prop. 8, and thought the black community was so important, then they should have started organizing outreach a lot sooner.” Instead, LGBT organizers “who came to the black community late” sent a message of disrespect.
Carey emphasizes that, “It is part of the value of the Task Force to partner with non-LGBT organizations as we seek justice and equality. The challenge for all of us is that we have a lot to learn from other movements and they have a lot to learn from us.”
The conference runs through Sunday at the Hilton Baltimore. Visit creatingchange.org for details.