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January 20, 2016 was the first day of Creating Change, an event hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force as a gathering of LGBTQ leaders and activists across the nation, and the world. I flew to Chicago to attend Creating Change for the first time. This year the gathering focused specifically on racial justice, including a day long racial institute. While the Task Force and the conference had the right idea at heart, many of their actions have left attendees disappointed, wondering whether or not the conference was actually there to support people of color (POC).
Let me begin with some of the highlights. Creating Change was held in beautiful Chicago, Illinois in the Hilton Hotel. The conference started out with a bang, with key speakers such as Jamie Washington, Evangeline Weiss, and Becky Martinez – all influential people in the National LGBTQ Task Force and Social Justice Training Institute. After listening to the speakers talk about the dynamics of race and orientations and how these different identities intersect, the attendees were separated into different groups. POC first time attendees, white first time attendees, POC returners, etc. We were all lead off to different rooms to begin discussing race and race relations; I was with the POC first time attendees. While I felt that the conversations in this group was underwhelming (I learned the cycle of oppression/liberation my first semester in high school!), conversations went well for the most part. I want to give huge props to Union = Fuerza Latino Institute. They facilitated a great workshop on what the trans Latinx experience is about. As someone who identifies as both Latinx and Trans, it was an amazing opportunity to meet fellow Latinx activists. The workshop gave me insight on how to communicate with spanish speaking communities about LGBTQ issues. It also gave me an opportunity to speak with fellow Latinx about my experiences as a trans latinx that I don’t normally get to experience.
The workshop run by Trans Lifeline was another highlight. I have wanted to work in suicide prevention and it was a great way to enter that conversation again after a year-long hiatus. It was a very informative workshop from an organization that focuses on offering suicide prevention counseling services for trans people. But what I enjoyed the most was just how safe I felt in the space. I felt no judgment as someone who has had suicidal thoughts in the past. It made me feel like I was someone who could have insight into suicide prevention work instead of incapable of helping because of my history.
Creating Change was not without it’s flaws. Some of the issues began before the conference even started. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was invited to attend the conference as a speaker. Although the invitation was later revoked, the damage had already been done. As someone who has family that is undocumented I was originally enraged. How could they invite a group that brought so much fear into my family and I? We are here because our home countries are not safe enough for us to live in. We don’t need to have a discussion on how to make detention centers “safer” for LGBTQ people, because we don’t want to be in there in the first place. I and others, were extremely disappointed in the Task Force’s decision to invite ICE in the first place. This was a shocking decision for a group that claims to be inclusive to every member in the community.
I was also disappointed at Creating Change’s reaction to the protests that happened during the conference. The protests were in response to the presentation of a Pro-Israel group, A Wider Bridge. I want to make it clear, I am not against Judaism however, I can not ignore the displacement and the violence that Israel is doing to Palestine. I and the people protesting believe there is no excuse for the violence that the Israeli government is doing to Palestinian people. Protests started with Shabbat service organized by the Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago (JVPC) and Committee for a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine (CJPIP). A Wider Bridge and other supporting organizations held their own separate Shabbat in another area in the building. Both of these services happened without interruptions. After the Shabbat hosted by the JVPC and the CJPIP, attendees were invited to join in a protest where hundreds of members marched from the lobby of the Hilton to the third floor where A Wider Bridge’s reception was being held. The goal of the protest was to call on the Task Force to stand against colonialism, racism, and to refuse to accept receptions from problematic organizations. During the event, four protesters rushed the reception to share the message they were trying to spread while the rest of the protesters remained in the hallway. It was at this time that A Wider Bridge’s guests began exiting the reception, shouting at the protesters along the way. This altercation led the Hilton to call police in order to get control of the situation.
In response to the protests, the Task Force did not address any of the messages from the protesters. Instead they released a statement condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic statements. As a conference that spent a week speaking about intersecting identities, the Task Force should have been more understandable to what our Palestinian members were saying. It is not Antisemitism to protest colonization.
I admit that I had a good time at Creating Change. I connected with fellow activists and I appreciate the people I met that have inspired me to continue doing activism work. However, as a queer person of color, I have to say that Creating Change was not exactly the best place for me. I feel like Creating Change unintentionally focused their attention on the comfort of the white attendees rather than on the POC attendees. If the conference holds a racial institute, they must listen to the issues the POC believe are relevant. POC deserve a space where they can discuss issues without having to censor themselves for the sake of others. I only hope the Task Force will take this year’s events into consideration when they begin planning for next year’s conference. I don’t think I’ll be attending but I hope I hear good things from it.