Diversity woven into national LGBT conference

News Analysis
By Stephani Maari Booker
Community Editor

A workshop entitled “The Pink Elephant in the Room: White Privilege and Racism Within the Queer Community” packed a room with over 60 people.

Local activist Farheen Hakeem led a “Fighting Islamophobia and Homophobia” workshop.

Roxanne Anderson, local LGBT activist and conference organizer

-Photos by Misha Oneby

When I learned last year that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) would be holding its 23rd annual conference on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) equality in Minneapolis in 2011, I knew I had to take advantage of this rare opportunity to be present at a national LGBT event being held locally.

Additionally, as a member of the LGBT community and as member of the Black Press, I have attended numerous LGBT conferences, workshops and other events, most notably the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival, Outfront Minnesota’s LGBT Lobby Day at the State Capitol, and the annual conference of Rainbow Families, a Twin Cities-based organization by and for LGBT-headed families and their children.

At all these large LGBT events, I have noted the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in the attendees and the lack of inclusion when it comes to the events’ activities. (And I have written about it; see “Black participation sparse in GLBT Lobby Day” in the May 4-10, 2006 issue, for example.)
The Twin Cities LGBT community includes a very active people-of-color constituency, including African Americans. I interviewed four local Black LGBT activists for the MSR front-page story “Out, Black and active,” published in two parts in July 2007. The MSR has carried many stories over the past decade about the activities of local LGBT people of color, proving that LGBTs of color are numerous, organized and active, as opposed to the stereotype that they are few in number and all in the closet.

Knowing this from my work and from being part of the LGBT community, though I knew I had to attend and cover NGLTF’s Creating Change conference, in the back of my mind I expected it to be another large, “mainstream” LGBT event in which people of color and any activities that are racially/ethnically inclusive would be few and far between.

After spending one and a half days at the five-day conference, held Feb. 2-6 at the Hilton in downtown Minneapolis, I now know that “Creating Change” is not just a name for the conference. Diversity and inclusion are the fabric of the entire event, targeted toward people who are new to LGBT activism as well as veteran activists and professionals.

Race/ethnicity, class, gender, disability, age, religion and other areas of diversity thoroughly encompassed the workshops, day-long institutes, keynote speakers, and recreational activities; and faces of color (as well as other people representing other kinds of diversity, including visually impaired people, people wearing clergy collars and Islamic hijabs)  were plentiful among the attendees, workshop and institute presenters, speakers, organizers and volunteers.

Diversity and inclusion was integrated on every level at Creating Change. One example: On Wednesday, during the day-long institutes for intensive education on a select number of issues, I chose to sit in on one entitled “Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles.” I was the only visible person of color in the room (there may have been others, such as Latinos/as, who I couldn’t identify), though it was understandable considering that the institute was a beginners’ course on White supremacy targeted (but not exclusive to) White LGBT activists.

However, the workshop was facilitated by two members of an organization called the Disability Justice Collective, a group that works for rights and inclusion for LGBTs with disabilities. The facilitators themselves identified as people with disabilities, and issues of ableism (socially enforced prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities), as well as class, gender and other issues, were incorporated into their work at the institute.

I was astounded that disability activists were not restricted or “ghetto-ized” into leading sessions only on disability. This was not a conference of diversity ghetto-ization. The White supremacy institute facilitators spoke of a motto that was repeated throughout the conference: “Access, Sovereignty, Liberation.”

Along with disability access and anti-ablelism being integrated throughout the conference, there was a First Nations Collective that made sure issues of indigenous people’s sovereignty carried through in multiple workshops, institutes and events. Additionally, there were workshops on LGBTs and labor/unions, immigration and Palestinian rights.

LGBTs and heterosexual allies (often added as “LGBTA”) who are Palestinians and Muslims were attendees and facilitated workshops at the conference. Among them was local ally and political activist Farheen Hakeem, who led “Fighting Islamophobia and Homophobia: Building Solidarity in Oppressed Communities.”

Hakeem’s workshop was part of a group of workshops and other programming called “Practice Spirit, Do Justice,” which drew faith community members and leaders within and outside the LGBT community. Roxanne Anderson, veteran Twin Cities African American LGBT activist and one of the local organizers of Creating Change, explained the purpose of Practice Spirit, Do Justice: “They have special tracks and special spiritual leaders coming in, and [participants] are going to synthesize [the] information and feed it back out into mainstream churches and to mainstream justice institutions.

“They have two special tracks,” within Practice Spirit, Do Justice, Anderson added. “One is [for] the African American church, and one’s…for Judaism.”

The Creating Change conference was a place where you could attend both Islamic jumah and Jewish shabbat prayer services. It was a place where you could go to a workshop on advancing LGBT equality among people of color and people of faith that was facilitated by an Asian American ally who was born into a Southern Baptist family in Hong Kong.

The NGLTF and the many local and national collaborating groups who organized the Creating Change conference are to be commended for creating a place and a space in which diversity and inclusion are not a sidetrack but the main track to working for social justice for all people.
The late African American lesbian poet Pat Parker once said, “If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome,’ because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black.

Or I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half the poets are anti-homosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.”

At Creating Change, all parts of what makes a human being were welcome to work for a revolution in social justice.

For more information about the Creating Change conference and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, call 202-393-5177 or go to www.creatingchange.org.

Stephani Booker welcomes reader responses to sbooker@spokesman-record er.com.