Creating change is even better.
by Christina Gorzynski
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force brings its National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change to downtown Houston’s Hilton Americas hotel, January 29–February 2. The 26th annual conference aims to further the goal of achieving full equality, social justice, and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States.
Conference participants will reflect on issues such as the recent string of state marriage equality victories, the federal agenda for equality, local initiatives to create safer schools, and legal equality for all, including our transgender sisters and brothers. Seminars will also focus on building alliances with pro-LGBT allies and religious organizations. Creating enduring change will be a major theme of the five-day event.
More than 4,000 LGBT rights advocates from across the country are expected to attend the nation’s premier LGBT political action conference. Having grown from 300 participants at the first conference in 1988, attendance in recent years has averaged around 3,500 people.
Since 1988, Creating Change has given thousands of committed people the opportunity to develop and hone their skills, celebrate victories, build community, and be inspired by LGBT visionaries and allied leaders working for justice and equality.
Houston host committee co-chair Lou Weaver has attended the last two Creating Change conferences in Baltimore and Atlanta. He is a past president of the Transgender Foundation of America, based in Houston. “One of the most powerful aspects of Creating Change is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other passionate allies and advocates,” Weaver explains. “Amazing things are happening across the United States and around the world right now, and people are willing to help one another.”
Attendees represent every faction of the LGBT equality movement, including young and old activists, organizers and activists of color, paid and volunteer staff people at LGBT political and community organizations, straight allies, elected officials, safer-school advocates, anti-violence activists, faith-based organizers, college campus leaders, and people from LGBT community centers. In short, Creating Change is an annual gathering of organizers and activists working to create a world in which all sexual orientations and gender expressions are welcomed and celebrated.
“At a decisive time in the struggle for LGBT rights, activists from all over the country will convene to continue to mobilize and strategize at this year’s Creating Change Conference in Houston,” says conference director Sue Hyde. “The movement for equality is making great strides, but there is much more left to do—from securing protections against discrimination to fighting alarming rates of HIV infection; from tackling anti-LGBTQ violence to delivering racial and economic justice for all. We will continue to work harder than ever with local partners in communities across the country to secure full equality for all.”
There will be workshop sessions, presentations, receptions, and four dynamic plenary sessions. “The number of proposals that were submitted this year was unprecedented. Houston and Texas really turned it out. This is going to be an excellent opportunity to showcase all of the innovative projects, programs, and individuals that are truly creating change,” says local programming chair Januari Leo.
Pre-conference Day-Long Institutes are scheduled for Wednesday, January 29, and Thursday the 30th. Then on Thursday evening, the “Welcome to Houston” reception will be held.
Laverne Cox to Be Keynote Speaker
Television star, actress, and activist Laverne Cox will be the keynote plenary speaker at Creating Change 2014. Cox plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman, in the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
“As an actress and LGBT activist, Laverne Cox is the real thing, and we are delighted to have her be our keynote speaker,” says Hyde. “She embodies the values of our conference, as she is passionate, pioneering, and progressive.” [Editor’s note: see OutSmart interview with Cox this issue: Standing Tall.]
Re-engagement to Combat HIV/AIDS
The Saturday keynote address and panel discussion will feature some of the leading voices of both the LGBT and HIV/AIDS movements. Partnering with AIDS United, Creating Change will also have over a dozen HIV/AIDS-related sessions and other programming initiatives that will address the alarming rates of infection currently found in LGBT communities of color, with the goal of reinvigorating attendees in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.
“By working together, we will reach a goal of an HIV/AIDS-free generation. Our resolve to end the epidemic cannot falter,” says Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force. The organization is proud of its long legacy of focusing attention on the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in the LGBT community.
“To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must work together to end the stigma, the complacency, and the ignorance surrounding HIV and AIDS. While we have made great strides in treatment and prevention, the reality is that new infections for LGBT people are on the rise. Now, more than ever, we must turn our attention to those hardest hit by this epidemic: our gay and bisexual brothers, our transgender sisters, our young people, and communities of color, particularly black and Latino/a men and women,” urges Carey.
The Saturday event, entitled “Why We Can’t Wait: Let’s End AIDS Now,” will be moderated by Michael Kaplan, president and CEO of AIDS United. Joining Kaplan will be
, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute (the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on black people); Cecilia Chung, US People Living with HIV Caucus president, senior strategist of the Transgender Law Center, and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS; Charles Stephens, a writer and thought leader who leads advocacy training in the southeast United States; and Elicia Gonzales, executive director for GALAEI: A Queer [email protected] Social Justice Organization in Philadelphia, member of the Leadership Council for the National Latino AIDS Action Network, and a founding member of Raices Latino Pride Philadelphia.
In addition to the Saturday plenary, approximately 14 sessions over the course of the conference will be presented that focus on HIV/AIDS. Onsite HIV testing for low-income and uninsured attendees will be offered, restroom signage will remind attendees about the importance of hand-washing in the prevention of opportunistic infections, an HIV etiquette guide will appear in the official conference program, and safer-sex kits will be included in each attendee’s registration bag and will also be available throughout the conference.
Nona Hendryx Rocks the Hilton
Nona Hendryx—singer, composer, and political activist—will rock the house to send attendees home dancing on Sunday, February 2. Tackling social issues, love, and politics, Hendryx’s legendary career spans six decades of sound and style evolution. Hendryx is one of the founding members of the groundbreaking doo-wop girl group Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles (with Sarah Dash and Cindy Birdsong). Firmly planted in autonomous liberation at the socio-political intersection of race, sex, and class, the music pioneers soon saw Labelle rack up three gold albums and a #1 worldwide platinum hit with the single “Lady Marmalade (Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?).”
Nona Hendryx, an out and proud bisexual sister, is the Queen of Transformation, writing music for theater and film (Precious) and co-writing and appearing on the 2012 Terri Lyne Carrington Grammy Award-winning album Mosaic. Hendryx serves as Ambassador for Artistry in Education at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The Task Force’s Work in Houston
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force forged on-the-ground working relationships with Houston’s activist leaders beginning in March 1977, when 14 community leaders met with Midge Costanza, then-adviser to president Jimmy Carter. Among those attending this historic first-ever White House meeting was Houston’s Pokey Anderson, co-founder of the Houston Gay/Lesbian Political Caucus.
In 1992, the Task Force took the lead and organized demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in Houston, where Pat Buchanan infamously declared a culture war on LGBT people. In 2001, the Task Force worked with Progressive Voters in Action to mount an unsuccessful campaign to defeat City Proposition 2, an amendment to the City Charter prohibiting domestic partner benefits for city workers. In 2005, the Task Force sponsored the Vote Against the Amendment Committee to organize to defeat Texas Proposition 2, passed by voters to ban legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Texas. Vote Against the Amendment produced and aired seven television commercials that became the nation’s first-ever ads to spotlight same-sex couples discussing what marriage equality means to them.
Texas Touches, Southern Hospitality
Throughout the conference, Houston’s City Hall will be illuminated with rainbow lights to honor the event. To help educate out-of-town guests about the vibrant history of Houston’s LBGTQ community, a banner display is being created for one of the hotel lobbies using historical documents, photographs, and mementos from various local organizations, including National Coming Out Day memories.
“The local Houston Host Committee is working to make our city shine to those who may never have been here before. Pretty soon, the secret will be out about how great our city is. I look forward to making the 2014 conference the best ever and seeing our community attend this wonderful event,” says committee co-chair Bryan Hlavinka.
The conference will have hospitality suites for designated groups within the LGBTQ community. These suites are designed as a safe and nonjudgmental space, with informal social time, networking opportunities, and free food and beverages for those in need. For example, there will be an Elder Support Hospitality Suite, as well as spaces for those living with disabilities, and for youth attendees who are 24 and younger. The Racial Diversity Hospitality Committee plans to honor a diverse group of Houston LGBTQ history makers in their hospitality suite during the conference.
When asked what motivated her to volunteer for the Creating Change Host Committee, trans writer, leader, and advocate Monica Roberts says, “I’m very proud of my hometown and wanted to be part of the team organizing the first Creating Change Conference to take place in Houston.”
Roberts explains, “I also believe it’s important for me to do so as a past attendee and a longtime African-American trans leader from this city.”
The Trans*/Gender Diverse suite will also be hosting a body positive pool party at the hotel on Saturday evening, while the Bi/Pan/Fluid suite highlights its community and role models. Not only does the under-24-year-old crowd have its own suite, but there will also be a special event for youth, the Mas-QUEERade Ball, on Saturday night at the hotel.
Registering and Volunteering
The conference registration fee includes admission to any of the Wednesday and Thursday Day-Long Institutes, as well as access to the Welcome to Houston Reception on Thursday evening. Registered attendees are also able to participate in all conference-related events and receptions held at the Hilton, including workshop sessions, presentations, and the four dynamic plenary sessions on Thursday evening, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Attendees may also choose to engage in the Task Force’s Academy for Leadership and Action sessions on Friday and Saturday, when a team of Task Force organizers will offer sophisticated training and strategy sessions on a range of issues.
Tamira “Augie” Augustine has been a passionately committed LGBT activist for the last 13 years, serving such organizations as Pride Houston, the Lesbian Health Initiative, and United for Marriage. “We are so excited to be the host city for some never-before-seen events at Creating Change, like the National Black Justice Coalition’s ‘The Black Institute: From the Civil Rights Movement to the LGBT-Equality Movement.’ This year we have also kicked up the entertainment and outdoor portions, with a fun Food Truck Park and party shuttles to our award-winning gayborhood,” says Augustine.
Creating Change is the nation’s premier LGBT progressive conference, and thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocates from across the country are expected to attend. For those under 16 and over 65, there is no charge, but you must register. A limited-income rate of $165 is also available to those for whom the cost of attendance may be prohibitive. To register or to volunteer at the conference, or to offer no-cost housing to an out-of-town attendee, please visit creatingchange.org.
Christina Canales Gorczynski is a community leader and the founder and CEO of First Person, a business-consulting firm for socially responsible organizations. Gorczynski is also a local host committee co-chair for Creating Change 2014.