I am lucky to be at the Creating Change Conference with 4,000 other LGBTQ activists. We are so inundated by workshops and speakers that there is no time to go on Facebook or turn on the news. Yesterday was the last day of the Obama era and today is the start of the abyss, but I am deep in this Conference of commitment, surrounded by other activists, and happily in the bubble of hope. Here’s how my first day went, starting at the end.
The National LGBTQ Task Force appears to hire staff from such a range of ethnicities and sexualities that they get most things right. They connect with multiple queer communities because they ARE multiple identities. They are not a rich white male leadership with a symbolic weak “outreach” – their staff seems to encompass the richness of this country and therefore to draw us all in. As they welcomed us to the conference at the 8:00pm plenary, they immersed us immediately in the kind of true diversity they represent. For example, we were treated to an amusing and enlightening explanation of how to be at a conference that is being simultaneously translated into Spanish and Sign.
A memorial presentation for both the victims of Orlando and others murdered by homophobia and transphobia looked at the unspeakable wounds of that violence, especially to the Latinx community, and at the ways in which people pulled together to look after each other. I wept; everyone around me wept.
The Keynote speaker Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is a commanding figure – broad, clad in purple, with a countenance both handsome and strong. He schooled us in the real meaning of the concept of intersectionality. He spoke at length and with an unflagging passion about his Southern strategy, using the amazing successes of his alliances in North Carolina as examples. He talked about how people of color, poor people, and the LGBTQ communities share the same enemies and how we are used against each other. He has always walked the walk – convincing NAACP and many Black churches to support marriage equality during that struggle. His talk was interrupted countless times as we jumped up to clap and scream, recognizing the privilege of his insights. Just one quote: “Nothing worse than being loud and wrong. Every one of our statements must have a footnote.” I was a fan before I heard him in person and now I’m a fan forever.
Most of the day had been spent at the Aging Institute – looking at the activism of older people in the LGBTQ movement. I wrote on my evaluation form: “This is clearly one of the main attractions for the older people in the LGBTQ community who come to Creating Change. It is a day that is run with impeccable skill by the charming if masterful Serena Worthington, of SAGE. The variety of voices - mainly from among Philly's elder activists - enlivens a very long day and impresses with the range of ways in which elders are organizing to change the country. Serena manages just the right mix of small groups, interactive plenaries, riveting panels, and mixed media. Elders created and hold the history of our movement and should be more widely showcased at a time when history is being turned around and our achievements are being threatened.”
I should mention that at the Elder Institute I did my first reading of my new book Lillian in Love. I’m having a “soft launch” here and will really launch it in a couple of weeks from back home. The reading was prodigious fun and people bought over half the books I brought with me to Philadelphia. This evening I have a whole workshop to myself and to Lillian in Love, where I’ll read additional excerpts.
I’m a huge admirer of the splendid organization of this gigantic conference, but I do have one beef. Here is what I wrote on the evaluation form to the organizers. “The organizers of Creating Change do an astonishingly fine job of putting together a massive conference with many dozens of conflicting demands. However, they seem to have little understanding of the needs of the movement's elders. The Institute was held in the very furthermost, the very last room down a very long hall as distant from the elevator as possible. The nearest bathrooms seemed to be nearly a mile away, quite literally, back up that long hall, and along two more very long hallways. Many of the attendees have mobility issues and the Institute had to build in longer breaks just so people could get to the bathroom with the canes, walkers, and scooters. While aging is clearly not a priority topic, one is puzzled at the ignorance of the needs of our older activists. To add to what begins to feel like an insult, the Elder Hospitality Lounge is also the very furthermost down a hall of many Hospitality Lounges that winds around the entirety of this huge hotel. What could possibly be the thinking behind these barriers to our comfort and participation? Please place us close to the elevators in coming years.”