This past week I attended the Annual Creating Change Conference put on by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in various locations throughout this big gay nation of ours every year. This year the all-encompassing leadership conference was held in Dallas Texas, and--let me just tell you--everything really is bigger there. Well, everything except for the cell-phone reception, but that's another story.
I have a confession to make. I was a virgin until this past Wednesday. A conference virgin, silly. I'd attended dozens of LGBT conferences in my life, but never a Creating Change. I was close to attending--and considered joining the local planning committee--when it was in Detroit, my hometown. However, I was on my way to Illinois, and didn't really want to take on a new commitment, only to be out of state when the conference occurred. So I've never been.
And now? I can't wait to attend next year in Minneapolis! I love Creating Change because it helps me get better at... well... creating change!
The conference has something for everyone: queer studies and queer liberation enthusists, gender and sexuality experts, immigration activists, social media gurus, public health advocates, fundraisers, Community Center and organizaton leaders, politicians, activists, youth, the young at heart, and Glee karaoke fans (yes, we had Glee karaoke and it was amazing, wait until I post video of some of your favorite Bilerico contributors and Stonewall Democrats participating in a rousing rendition of "Sweet Caroline").
I was wearing so many hats there, my hair was doing all sorts of strange things. I was there as a blogger--yes--but I was also there as a board member of a Community Center, a journalist, a pod-caster, an activist, an organizer, a student, an educator and a librarian (not many of you know about THAT hat of mine).
No joke, I had three different types of business cards to distribute--one for the UP Center, one for my blogging and journalism, and one for the Library School. I had a lot to take in there, and I realized that I'm not going next year without a team to share in the experience and pool all of our knowledge. I mean, I'm only one man.
By now, every Bilerico-er has already posted their reactions and take-way from the conference, and I'm not going to repeat, ad infinitum, that meeting the leaders is awesome, Rea Carey's speech is outstanding and moving, networking is amazing, going to workshops is great, blah blah blah. Certainly that's the point of the conference.
I'm going to tell you a story.
I'm walking between the Conference Center and hotel on day two, very much in my head trying hard to decide which workshop to attend next and which hat I put on there, when--who do I see? Kate Kendell, the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and notable hero of the movement walking right toward me.
I've met many of our movement leaders over the past ten years, and I got to tell you I'm a little sexist. Our lesbian Executive Directors are 500 times more personable and human in person than our gay men. I think they all do equally as awesome work, but I'm just telling you, from experience, I've always received unparalleled warmth from the Rea Careys and Cathy Rennas.
Nothing prepared me for meeting Kate Kendell though.
Both of us, deep in thought, almost walked right into one another. I look up at the person I just nearly plowed over, and its her. A secret (Bil and Jerame will concur): I am a star-struck nerd when I meet for the first time folks I've read and followed for years. Immediately I gushed and my voice went up an octave. I'm sure I gasped too. It must have been really embarrassing for her.
Kate didn't run away. We had never met, and I'm sure she had no idea who I am. What does she do? She reaches over and gives me a big hug.
The 'vibe' at the Creating Change conference is really the most amazing part of the conference. Back home, when we're doing our organizing, our activism, our writing and our living; its sometimes quite easy to get discouraged with the attitudes and egos around us. We hear "can't" so much in our local LGBT orgs we start to forget the the word comes in a model without the apostrophe-'t.' We could start a 'can't-ery.' Sell pureed negativity.
This cynicism is missing at Creating Change, though. Everyone attending has a "can do attitude regardless of the climate back home. We are all eager to get out there and connect because we still believe in hope. We still believe that change is around the corner. That is beautiful, and its a little addictive, and it makes you sort of sad when you come home to--I kid you not--jaded twenty-year-olds who are ready to give up because they just voted for the first time and didn't get what they expected. Its discouraging.
The high is great, and it makes an optimistic and energized activist and organizer want to stay and remain in that forever. But if we all just hung out in our little group of positive thinking all of the time, we'd never get anything done. Instead it could be a lot more like an annual battery recharge. We give our spirit and try to spread hope throughout the year back home, and then--once a year--we can hike to Creating Change and replenish, ready to go back and spend another year fighting the good fight.
Kate Kendell probably has no idea how much that hug meant to me, but it really was the world. Not just for me, but for all those folks I've now come back to and brought all that energy back for. I've taken that optimism and spirit and positivity in that hug and come back and tried to share it here in Champaign Illinois as we try to press on making inroads in a rough election cycle with no cash and a bankrupt government as well as try to open the doors to our Community Center.
The energy is great for the conference, but its also so vital to take back home and create change right here. Hopefully--eventually--the spirit will catch on, and some of the "can't do curmudgeons" will buy in.
The hug also helped off-set the hilariously disappointing embarrassment of when Matt Foreman, former Director of the Task Force, mistook my star-struck blabbering as hitting him up for grant money. Whoops! If you're reading this Matt, I was just so honored to meet you, and overeager to talk to you when you asked what the "UP Center" on my name-tag meant.
And that's the other great souvenir of the conference--all of the hilarious stories (the ones we are allowed to tell and those we can't!