March 2, 2016 at 9:16 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Rea Carey: ‘I’m not stepping down’
Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force, gay news, Washington Blade

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey has no plans to resign in the wake of January’s protest at the annual Creating Change conference that forced the cancellation of a reception with two Israeli activists.

“There are a lot of opinions both from people who were and weren’t there,” Carey told the Washington Blade during an interview at the Task Force’s offices in Northwest D.C. on Feb. 25. “I love the work that I do and I’m not stepping down.”

Carey spoke with the Blade a month after more than 200 people opposed to “pinkwashing,” which they describe as the promotion of Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its policies toward the Palestinians, protested the reception at the Creating Change conference in Chicago.

A Wider Bridge, an organization that seeks to bolster “LGBTQ connections with Israel,” organized the reception. Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning from the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance were scheduled to speak, but they left the room in which the gathering was taking place through a back door as protesters began shouting.

Organization does not have ‘international mission’

The National LGBTQ Task Force initially cancelled the reception amid criticism from Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and others who accused A Wider Bridge of “pinkwashing.” Carey later reversed this decision.

She stressed that the National LGBTQ Task Force “does not have a policy stance on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.” Carey also touched upon the debate around the campaign in support of a boycott, economic divestment and sanctions against Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians that took place during the protest and in the days and weeks afterwards.

“We are not an organization with an international mission,” she said.

A Wider Bridge CEO Arthur Slepian told the Blade on Monday that he welcomes Carey’s comments on the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians.

“That’s a good thing,” said Slepian. “It should not be the role of the National LGBTQ Task Force to have a policy position on the conflict.”

Dana Beyer, a member of A Wider Bridge’s board of directors, agreed.

“Our goal as LGBT organizations is to do the best we can for our citizens and for those elsewhere in the world who need our help and want their help,” she told the Blade on Monday during an interview. “We need to be concerned about their well-being, not the geo-political situations in which they live.”

Safety of conference participants top priority

Carey throughout the interview said the decisions she made around the A Wider Bridge reception were about safety.

“It is in fact at the core of every decision I made about that reception, including to cancel it,” she said.

She told the Blade that A Wider Bridge promoted the reception “more publicly for people to come in from the outside.”

“That happens sometimes with our receptions … so it was a public thing,” said Carey. “We can’t always check badges as we do with the plenaries and workshops to make sure that people have registered for the conference.”

Carey said standard protocol for Creating Change is to make sure that those who attend a workshop or plenary are registered and have a nametag.

“[If they] don’t have one we simply ask them to go register, please go get a nametag and go on back,” she said. “It’s so hard to do that on reception night … you’ve got 4,000 people going from hallway to hallway, room to room, plus some receptions have made them open to the public.”

Carey told the Blade that most of those who organized the protest did not register for the conference. Slepian dismissed suggestions that his organization’s decision to promote the reception contributed to the protest.

“In the weeks leading up to the conference, there was just some agitation from a small number of folks who were complaining that we were on the itinerary,” he said.

Staff helped ‘deescalate’ situation with police

Carey said that Task Force staff spoke with security personnel at the Chicago Hilton about the protests that they expected to take place. She told the Blade that they did not want them to call the police “unless things got really violent or something,” in part, because of the controversy surrounding the shootings of Laquan McDonald and other people of color in Chicago.

“My worst fears were that this gets out of hand somehow, the police are on site and it gets worse and worse,” said Carey.

Carey told the Blade that Task Force staff were inside and outside the reception “to try to deescalate things, which they tried to do actually outside the reception at one point.”

Hotel personnel nevertheless called the police.

“We then, our staff, were talking to the police trying to get them to help deescalate the situation, knowing the experiences that many of our attendees have had with the police,” she said. “Unfortunately that itself was going to be a challenge for a number of people. It was a very intense situation where I think a lot of people were trying to deescalate it.”

‘Peacekeepers’ possible at future conferences

Carey in the weeks after the protest has reached out to organizers.

Slepian told the Blade that he and Carey had a “very cordial conversation” for nearly an hour. Carey has also exchanged emails with Jerusalem Open House Executive Director Sarah Kala-Meir.

“On site we started assessing what we did, what we could have done,” said Carey. “We started to talk with people.”

Carey told the Blade it “would have been helpful if we could have had conversations” with A Wider Bridge and other organizations holding the reception about “what they felt they needed in the room.” She said they did not consider the need for security during the event.

Slepian disputes this account.

He told the Blade that there was a person inside the room in which the reception took place for security.

“That person basically used his body to barricade the door to keep the protesters outside,” said Slepian.

Carey said she and Task Force staff could have also spoken with the protest organizers.

Bashar Makhay, one of the protest organizers with whom the Blade has previously spoken, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this week.

“We have protests at Creating Change,” said Carey. “Often times when we talk to the protest organizers, we’re actually able to create a situation where they get to have a protest, have their voice heard, say what they want to say and make sure that it’s a protest that doesn’t turn into something that they don’t want and we don’t want, whether it’s physical violence or insulting other people.”

Carey told the Blade that the layout of the reception rooms in the hotel “exacerbated the situation.” She added another solution at which the organization is looking for future Creating Change conferences is to use so-called “peacekeepers” who are trained to de-escalate protests and other situations.

“I wish it hadn’t gotten to the point where the police had been called by the hotel,” she said.

Carey told the Blade that the National LGBTQ Task Force is undertaking a larger assessment of Creating Change and how it can continue to be “the conference that moves our movement forward.” She stressed that the safety of those who attend the annual gathering remains her highest priority.

“Anything that happens under my watch is my responsibility, and I take it seriously,” said Carey. “I and we are learning and I think we’re going to come up with some creative and concrete recommendations with how we can move forward for the conference, for the organization and for the movement.”

Panel with ICE officials also cancelled

The first Creating Change Conference took place in D.C. in 1988.

Carey told the Blade that roughly 200 people attended the first conference that Task Force Director of Creating Change Sue Hyde and Urvashi Vaid organized.

This year’s Creating Change had 234 workshops, 70 caucus sessions, 31 events, two-dozen institutes and four plenary sessions. Several people delivered Carey’s annual State of the Movement speech that she traditionally gives during the gathering.

National LGBTQ Task Force, Creating Change, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates attend the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Chicago in January. (Photo courtesy of the National LGBTQ Task Force)

Carey told the Blade that nearly 4,000 people attended this year’s Creating Change.

“It’s a lot of people,” she said.

Another controversy that emerged ahead of this year’s Creating Change was Carey’s decision to cancel a workshop that was to have featured three officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Carey noted to the Blade that government officials, including former White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan, have attended Creating Change. She nevertheless decided to cancel the ICE workshop because a number of undocumented immigrants who had planned to attend said they would not feel safe.

“Personally I am an activist,” said Carey, noting she has been arrested twice during immigration reform protests. “I am happy to tell a government official what I think they should do any time, but this wasn’t the safest situation for a lot of people to do so, and we heard that.”

Immigration reform a ‘significant priority’

The Task Force, which was founded in 1973 as the National Gay Task Force, is the country’s oldest national LGBT advocacy group. It is among the dozens of LGBT advocacy groups that urged the Obama administration last month to stop conducting raids that have targeted undocumented immigrants from Central America. Carey’s organization has also advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes the release of LGBT detainees in ICE custody.

“It is a very significant priority for the Task Force,” said Carey. “It is something that I personally care deeply about.”

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National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey speaks at a 2013 rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform. (Photo by Kathy Plate)

Carey during the interview described her organization as “a racial, economic and social justice organization that works for the LGBTQ community.”

“For 43 years, we have always been an organization that has pushed this country to understand our full lives,” she told the Blade. “Part of that is looking at issues that, unfortunately, some don’t consider to be LGBTQ issues.”

Carey said her organization continues to advocate in support of expanded economic and employment opportunity for LGBT Americans, which includes opposing so-called religious freedom bills. She also sharply criticized congressional Republicans for their opposition to President Obama nominating someone to succeed the late-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who died last month.

“I am extremely disappointed and I would say as a voting citizen of this country angry that members of Congress would derail democracy,” Carey told the Blade.

Carey stressed her organization is not going to expand its mission into international issues.

“That is not our area of expertise,” she said. “We are a U.S.-based domestically focused and missioned organization and that’s our best work.”

“Having said that, we absolutely understand…there’s a global experience that we all have now,” added Carey. “So we absolutely understand that issues that happen in other countries around the world, conflicts that happen in other countries affect people here in the United States.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

17 Comments
  • You should have asked Rea Carey about the terrorist organization that participated at the protest.

  • From Melanie Nathan, AHRC: What happened at Creating Change was nothing short of disgusting. It fostered and allowed an antisemitic attack against LGBT Jews. If Carey’s organization cannot control who organized protests at the venue then the whole process needs to be rethought. Most attendees at protest had CC badges … Look at the video. And yes the outside instigators may not have been registered such as Hamet Abudayyeh the ED of the Arab American Alliance Network who the FBI raided in 2010 for terrorist connection investigation.

    . The admissions as to waiting for violence before properly securing protection or security by police by Rea is unconscionable and sanctionable!!!

    There seems to be little remorse for the trauma suffered by those who were attacked. This Jew and many others are not appeased …. Speaking to Arthur and Sarah does not help the rest of us in the LGBT Jewish community whether there or not! What next …. Sweeping hate under the rug?

  • “Let’s get these motherf*cking Zionist racists” How much more peaceful can you get than that?

  • Not a single word of empathy from Rea Carey for the victims of the anti-Jewish violence and hate speech at her conference.

  • The Task Force is dominated by Jew haters, so if Rea Carey stepped down, there would only be another enabler of Jew hatred as its leader.
    Meanwhile within the last ten days, Israel granted asylum to a gay Palestinian. Israel’s highest court wrote in its decision that the gay Palestinian had to be granted asylum in Israel because if he were returned to the PA-controlled West Bank, his life would be in danger only because he is gay.

    • …because Netanyahu would target him for outing.

      There, finished your last sentence for you, Likud nutcase.

      • I find interesting that you refer to me as a “Likud nutcase” whereas I am not affiliated with any Israeli political party, am not Israeli, and even in the United States where I am a citizen, I am registered as an Independent.

        I take individual issues on their own merits, not according to what any political party anywhere may think about them.

        Why would you call me a “Likud nutcase” when I have nothing whatsoever to do with Likud?

  • If Rea Carey truly believes Palestine is such a wonderful place, then have Creating Change occur there next year instead of Philadelphia.

  • This is just the beginning of what things are going to be like as Israel inevitably degenerates further and further into Apartheid. Get used to it, Netanyahu shills.

  • Washington Blade should pay me and publish what I found out about how deep the Jew bashing roots run in National LGBTQ Task Force starting with this http://www.jessicanaomi.net/national-lgbtq-task-force-jew-bashing-roots-run-deep-1/

      • Washington Blade how about paying me and publish what I learned about how deep the Jew bashing roots run in National LGBTQ Task Force the entire board should resign.

        http://www.jessicanaomi.net/national-lgbtq-task-force-jew-bashing-roots-run-deep-1/

        1. Ever since the NLGBTQ Task Force board promoted Carey from assistant
        director to director, she has cut funding to national and state secular
        LGBTQ organizations and now only provides funding to Christians, and
        only to Christians who signed onto the ChristoFascist Kairos Document
        and vote to boycott, divest and sanction Israel (or what I call Bigots,
        Defamers and Slanders).Before 2009, the Task Force Foundation donated to
        more than 45 national and state LGBTQ organizations but in 2009, they
        cut off funding to most of those equality and community centered groups,
        and began to fund only these Christians.Read the full story on
        National LGBTQ Task Force Foundation funds ChristoFascist Jew Bashers.

        2. The National LGBTQ Task Force board of directors appointed the rabid Jew basher United Church of Christ bishop J. Bennett Guess to the board three weeks before that Christian cult voted to boycott, defame an slander Israeli Jews. Reading all of the Jew bashing slurs Guess wrote, I wondered if Carey agrees with him, and that is why she told the Jew bashing United Church of Christ cult, “It is a joy and an honor to have Rev. Ben Guess join the National LGBTQ Task Force’s board of directors…As his UCC colleagues have long known, he is a dynamic, compassionate, committed person who dedicates
        his life to the intersection of faith and justice.”Did Carey know that Guess hates Jews?
        Read Read National LGBTQ Task Force Appointed Rabid Jew Bashing Bishop to Executive Board
        for details about that ChristoFascist, Israeli historical revisionist
        appointment to what was once a secular inclusive LGBTQ equal rights
        organization.

        3. Creating Change director Sue Hyde allowed the Jew bashing slur pinkwashing to be used in Creating Change 2011 approving “The Exploitation of Queers: Pinkwashing, Palestine and our Joint Struggles, one year after the Jew bashing Catholics, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, and Anglicans published the Kairos Document: A moment of truth. A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,

        on Dec. 11, 2009. accusing Jews of being evil sinners.Read all about that in Hyde and Carey National LGBTQ Task Force Pinkwash Creating Change 2011.

        4. Carey and Hyde knew about the threats by the JudenRats instigators who
        carried out the pogrom against Israeli and American Jews, and then lied
        about their part in instigating, inciting and doing nothing to stop that
        attack, which they continue to call a “protest” to justify allowing
        this Jew bashing crusade.Read the facts in Carey and Hyde National LGBTQ Task Force Create Jew Bashing Pogrom.

        • Maybe because you’re just spamming the comments section and have no sense of grammar structure or proper punctuation? And calling the UCC a cult is just absurd.

  • “Carey told the Blade that nearly 4,000 people attended this year’s Creating Change. “It’s a lot of people.”

    A ‘lot of people’ … year after year of Creating Change – since 1988 …

    … who haven’t collectively had enough common sense, political awareness, and creativity to get workplace nondiscrimination laws passed in even a bare majority of US states.

    And the icing on that BIG FAILURE CAKE is violent anti-Semitism, Christian-bashing, and Muslim-hatred, with the particularly fab-U-lous flare of nasty LGBTQ-bullies.

  • My question to Rea Carey is: What substantive steps are being taken to create a safe space for Queer Jews/Queer Zionists at Creating Change in Philadelphia? At nearly every High Holiday service (even at congregations of 80 Jews) or large Jewish events that I have attended in various parts of the U.S. & Canada there have been police prominently posted outside on the street and/or at the entrance. Given the public discourse in advance of the reception, why did not Carey & Hyde have a police presence there so that the hotel was not forced to call them?

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