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Creating Change conference marked by controversies
Videos below article
by Matt Simonette and Gretchen Hammond
2016-01-25

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The 2016 Creating Change conference wrapped Jan. 24 after four days, and several weeks, of controversy.

The conference, held at the Hilton Chicago, is the central event for the National LGBTQ Task Force, and this year was expected to bring in well over 4,000 participants from hundreds of local and national organizations. This was the first year the conference took place in Chicago, where local organizers had raised nearly $50,000 in advance donations.

But the changing nature of activism, as well as the intersecting stakes of progressive issues, proved to offer formidable challenges for organizers as they headed toward the conference weekend. A Task Force staffer approved a proposal that would have brought in officials from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Activists balked, since numerous undocumented individuals, many of whom work on issues pertaining to immigration, were expected to attend. The Task Force ultimately rescinded that invitation and publicly apologized.

Another controversial engagement was that of A Wider Bridge ( AWB ), a San Francisco-based organization that tries to foster relationships between Israel and the LGBT community. AWB organized a Jan. 22 reception on behalf of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance ( JOH ), but online and local activists objected, maintaining that AWB is an organization engaged in "pinkwashing", promoting a positive image of LGBT life in order to distract attention from the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. On Jan. 15, the Task Force cancelled the reception, only to reverse that cancellation three days later.

About 200 protesters occupied the hallway outside the AWB reception in response. A few protesters entered the reception and were able to disrupt the JOH presentation. Some in the audience left, while others stayed behind. Hilton staff called Chicago Police to the scene, maintaining that the gathering had become a fire hazard, threatening Task Force officials with canceling the remainder of the conference as well. While there was some discord between protesters and reception guests, there were no arrests.

See related story "Protesters shut down Israel-focused event at Creating Change," by Matt Simonett. Videos by Tracy Baim, Jean Albright, Lynnell Stephanie Long. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Protesters-shut-down-Israel-focused-event-at-Creating-Change-/54056.html .

A more peaceful action occurred Jan. 23 at the opening of the Getting to Know Your POPO workshop organized by The San Diego LGBT Community Center and the San Diego Police Department.

The room quickly filled with people determined to encircle and close down the workshop, transforming it into a place of healing. It was led by two young individuals who said they had been attacked by CPD officers and Chicago Hilton security personnel during the AWB protest. They both asked to remain anonymous and threatened legal action if photographed or videoed.

"[We] were both attacked last night," one said while overcome with emotion. "There's been no apologies issued by the Hilton. There's been no restorative justice for the trauma that has been caused to me and to my people. You told me to come here and be myself and I was attacked. You have broken my trust by allowing Chicago police officers to be in this space. You broke trust when you invited ICE. There will be no more violence towards us. This is not OK."

"As a Black queer woman, I thought this would be a place to hang out and learn stuff," another added. "Last night, I was thrown into a door by a security guard. I don't feel safe here. I don't feel comfortable here. This is my first and my last Creating Change."

According to social media reports, a Jan. 22 session was interrupted by trans activists who were upset that the forum, about cisgender men interested in dating trans women, had no trans panelists.

The various issues did not go unnoticed by Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, who addressed the problems during the Closing Plenary Jan. 24.

"The last couple of weeks leading up to Creating Change, and for some of us here and some of you, have been tough and for really different reasons," Carey said. "I know that my actions and our actions have been hurtful to many. What you are witnessing, what we are all experiencing, is messy. It's hard. For many, we and I have failed to live up to the ideals of our mission."

Carey added that the issues which arose were the result of Creating Change growing to more than 4,000 attendees.

"We are experiencing some of what happens when we authentically invite all of us to bring our whole selves into this movement and those whole selves sometimes come into conflict," she said. "The progressive LGBTQ movement is mirroring the tensions of the larger society. Changes are happening in the world and Creating Change is reflecting some of those shifts as well. I don't have all the answers. None of us do. I have struggled how to lead in this moment. But what I can say is that our work at the Task Force, and together with others in the coming months, will focus on how we can change and build a better conference, while we learn from this year, while continuing to provide a place that so many have called 'their activist home.' We will learn and build from this moment."

Carey admitted that she "had a lot of fears about the direction of this movement. But I have a lot of hope too. We have the opportunity to be extraordinary. If we do this right, I believe we can make the next era of the LGBTQ movement our most dynamic, most powerful, most inclusive moment for leadership and transformation. If not us, who? If not at Creating Change, where?"

As she concluded, her words were drowned out by some members of the audience who offered a summary of their own feelings about Creating Change 2016.

In reference to deportations, some chanted "Not one more!" as Carey left the stage saying, "See you in Philadelphia,"where next year's conference will be held.

Among the plenary speakers in the conference were queer feminist community organizer Charlene Carruthers of Black Youth Project 100; trans activist and artist Reina Gossett; author and activist Barbara Smith; Illinois State Rep. Greg Harris; Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa; Dr. Leo Moore; Black AIDS Institute founder Phill Wilson; Cecilia Chung of the Transgender Law Center; Sharon J. Lettman Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition; and various Task Force staffers, including Barbara Satin, Stacey Long Simmons, Candace Bond-Theriault, Meghan Maury, Kayley Whalen ( representing Victoria M. Rodriguez-Roldan, who was unable to attend ), Russell Roybal and Rodney McKenzie, Jr.

Among the award winners were Barbara Smith, who received the Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement; Chicago's Kasey White, who received the Paul A. Anderson Youth Leadership Award; and Bob Miller, who received the Leather Leadership Award. Additionally, the Leadership on Immigration Reform Award went to Marisa Franco; the Award For Outstanding Social Justice Practice went to Nick Saukuri; and the SAGE Advocacy for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues went to Katherine Acey. Hilton Hotels won the Corporate Leadership Award.

Among the entertainment at the event, there was an Agents of Change House Ball hosted by Chicago's Solomon Arnold and his team, plus the Youth Empowerment Performance Project received a standing ovation for their powerful performance at the Closing Plenary.

Also see reports on plenary addresses, protests at the links below and, yet to come, reports from some of the hundreds of workshops.

- Creating Change panel addresses Black Feminism, by Matt Simonette. With video by Tracy Baim. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Creating-Change-panel-addresses-Black-Feminism/54062.html .

- Creating Change plenary addresses HIV/AIDS in trans women, Black men, by Matt Simonette. With video by Tracy Baim. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Creating-Change-plenary-addresses-HIV-AIDS-in-trans-women-Black-men-/54059.html .

- Task Force hosts 'State of the Movement' at Creating Change, by Gretchen Rachel Hammond. Video by Tracy Baim soon to come. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Task-Force-hosts-State-of-the-Movement-at-Creating-Change/54058.html .

- Protesters shut down Israel-focused event at Creating Change, by Matt Simonett. Videos by Tracy Baim, Jean Albright, Lynnell Stephanie Long. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Protesters-shut-down-Israel-focused-event-at-Creating-Change-/54056.html .

- Creating Change Closing Plenary honors youth, by Gretchen Rachel Hammond. With video by Tracy Baim. www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Creating-Change-Closing-Plenary-honors-youth/54060.html .



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