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The National LGBTQ Task Force Marks 50 Years of Progress

The Creating Change 2023 Conference is celebrating in San Francisco.

Thousands of activists, advocates, and allies are descending on San Francisco this month for Creating Change 2023, the first in-person version of the venerable LGBTQ conference in three years. 

Creating Change, which is organized and sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force, is billed as “the foremost political, leadership, and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ movement.” 

Creating Change held virtual conferences in 2021 and 2022 during the pandemic, so it has not met in person since the January 2020 Dallas convention. The theme of this year’s conference is “The State of the Movement: Past. Present. Future.”

Creating Change 2023 will also mark the launch of the 50th-anniversary events that will celebrate the founding of the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest civil-rights and advocacy organization fighting for queer equality.

A Star-Powered Conference

To help celebrate its golden anniversary in grand style, the Task Force has lined up an array of stage, screen, and pop-culture stars to speak at Creating Change.

Angelica Ross, star of the TV series Pose and American Horror Story, will be the conference’s closing speaker.

Angelica Ross, a transgender-rights activist and one of the stars of the hit television series Pose and American Horror Story, will deliver the closing plenary address in conversation with Pose actor Dyllón Burnside. In the fall of 2022, Ms. Ross made history as the first openly trans woman to play a leading role on Broadway when she debuted as Roxie Hart in the long-running musical comedy Chicago.

Transgender American writer Amy Schneider will lead a “gayme night” at the conference. In the fall of 2021, she captivated the American public when she emerged as the most successful female contestant in the history of the quiz show Jeopardy!, winning 40 consecutive games and amassing $1.38 million in earnings.

Transgender American writer Amy Schneider, the record-setting Jeopardy! contestant, is a keynote speaker at the Creating Change conference.

X González, who survived the harrowing school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2018 and has emerged as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for gun violence prevention, will also appear at the convention. Since 2018, they have riveted the nation with their fervor and eloquence in impassioned public speeches at March for Our Lives rallies, most notably when they famously asserted “We call BS” on politicians supported by the National Rifle Association who would not take legislative action to address America’s epidemic of gun violence.

The celebrated LGBTQ historian Eric Marcus, founder and host of the popular podcast Making Gay History, will also speak at Creating Change 2023.

The convention will honor a number of community activists for their distinguished service to the LGBTQ movement, including Barbara Satin, a longtime transgender activist who has worked on issues of faith, aging, and gender justice. Satin retired from the Task Force as their Faith Work director in 2022, and she will receive the Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues.

A Decisive Early Victory

The National LGBTQ Task Force (originally known as The Gay Task Force) was founded in New York in October 1973 by some of the nation’s leading activists, including Dr. Howard Brown, Martin Duberman, Barbara Gittings, Ron Gold, Frank Kameny, Nathalie Rockhill, and Bruce Voeller.

Later that same year, the Task Force scored a decisive victory early in its history when it lobbied to remove the diagnosis of homosexuality from the official list of mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In one stroke, the American Psychiatric Association established that there was no inherent link between homosexuality and mental illness, a long-held tenant of American life. This helped to set in motion a process of reducing the stigmatization of queer Americans.

The White House Meeting

The first contingent of LGBTQ Americans invited to the White House to discuss gay issues. They met with Midge Constanza, a top aide to then President Jimmy Carter.

A number of LGBTQ Houstonians played important roles in the early history of the Task Force. Pioneering gay activist Gary Van Ooteghem, the first president of the Houston Gay Political Caucus, went to Washington, DC in 1975 and spent five days lobbying members of Congress alongside Bruce Voeller, one of the founders of the Task Force. Inspired by this experience, Van Otteghem returned to Houston and came out publicly in his position as Harris County comptroller, calling for a civil-rights resolution to protect gay citizens. He served as a co-chair of the Task Force from 1976 to 1977.

Trailblazing lesbian activist Pokey Anderson, a co-founder of the Houston Gay Political Caucus, also served as co-chair of the Task Force’s board of directors in 1977. In that role, she made history as a member of the first contingent of LGBTQ Americans invited to the White House to discuss gay issues. On March 26, 1977, the group met with Midge Constanza, a top aide to then president Jimmy Carter.

Houston LGBTQ trailblazer Pokey Anderson

In the 1990s, Houston was a focus of the Task Force’s then executive director Urvashi Vaid, who traveled to the city regularly to give rousing speeches, nurture young activists, and organize on the ground. In 1992, Houston hosted the Republican National Convention, one of the most homophobic presidential conventions in American history. Vaid mobilized both Houston and national activists in marches and protests, and helped to shine a spotlight on the anti-queer Republican rhetoric.

In the 1990s, another veteran Houston activist stepped into a leadership role with the Task Force. Deborah Moncrief Bell served as national organizer for the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, which drew hundreds of thousands of queer Americans from across the country. For her tireless years-long effort, Bell was affectionately nicknamed “The Supreme, Mega Grand Diva of the Whole Blessed Universe.”

In 2022, the Task Force again made history when it named Kierra Johnson as its first Black female executive director. “We take an intersectional, proactive approach to our advocacy, underscoring our fundamental interconnectedness,” she has observed of her leadership vision for the organization. Johnson will deliver one of the keynote addresses at Creating Change 2023, focusing on the work being planned in the year ahead to advance LGBTQ equality. 

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Andrew Edmonson

Andrew Edmonson has written about the arts for the Houston Chronicle, OutSmart, The Houston Voice, and Houston Ballet News. He won the Award of Special Merit from the Texas Chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
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