Phil Reese

Creating change right where you are

Filed By Phil Reese | February 13, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: conference attendees, Creating Change conference, leadership, LGBT Community, the task force

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!

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Hee hee -- I haven't posted mine yet.

And I'm another virgin...

All that I can say to the nGLtf is no thanks and stay the heck away from my town please. Bi people have been coming along nicely even without nGLtf help and I honestly like it that way at this point.
In my little burg and the surrounding area the actual and complete LGBT community has been coming along. Our schools are very responsive to issues about racism, homophobia biphobia and transphobia.
This has been without nGLtf interference and honestly I would hate to see them come into this area and mess things up with their hierarchy of who is the right kind of queer, who gets to come in the front door and who should still sit in the back of the bus, but everyone needs to pay for the ticket even if they can't fly in first class.
I have yet to see nGLtf create anything like change they seem more interested in expanding the status quo.
I like conferences, but I think that I would avoid this like the plague even if they had their little get together in Boston right outside my backdoor.... I'm not drinking their Koolaid. Just not a fan of Gay Inc even if the Kangaroos said that the corporations are people too.

With all due respect to you Rob -- you are a colleague in bi activism who I respect, and also because I too am often doubtful of the commitment of "Gay Inc." to those who do not identify as lesbian or gay -- the Creating Change Conference is for me a truly amazing and transformative event.

NGLTF and the conference organizers -- like the rest of "the community" -- have been on an evolutionary curve on this issue for many years, and NGLTF has taken this challenge with greater seriousness than most other national organizations. This year, in particular, the bi community was given space and resources to host the first ever Bi Activism Institute. We were also provided with a "bi suite" for the entire conference, which was packed throughout the conference with bi activists from all over the country.

I hope that you'll talk to some of the other bi activists who were at CC10, get their impressions, and consider giving this conference a chance sometime in the future. You have good ideas and and I hope you'll come share them.

Onward to Minneapolis in 2011, Baltimore in 2012!

And finally (this comment is directed to Phil): I agree, that "can do" attitude is one thing that keeps me coming back to Creating Change. The conference recharges my activist batteries and reminds me that I am one of many. And it provides important skills training to help us be more effective activists.


Its truly an honor to read this! I'm sorry I missed the bi activism institute--I went with an agenda of workshops to attend on behalf of my Community Center board member "hat" as well as a few for my social media hat, but I was really tempted.

I tend not to discuss being bisexual on this blog very often, but perhaps there's a post waiting to bust out! After all, I do have my thoughts on the matter!

I wish I had had the opportunity to meet you. Maybe someday I WILL meet you!

It was so cute how excited you were about being at Creating Change, Phil. Hanging out with you is always such an uplifting experience because you're such a positive person. I can't wait to see you in Minneapolis!

Glad you made it out there, Phil. You already have so much positive energy to bring to Chambana, it's amazing you EVER need a recharge ;) Keep pushing for change in that community -- we're counting on folks like you!

aww, thanks Mike! I miss you so much!!!

Hey Phil, thanks so much for this post. Back in 1988 when the Creating Change Conference launched across the street from the Reagan White House, we dreamed a gathering that could send our friends home recharged for all of the daily discouragements and disappointments we must overcome in order to do our work. It was great to meet you and I'm so happy to know an activist in Chambana, one of my old stomping grounds. Next time I visit Central Illinois, I'm making a trip over to you!
And Rob Barton, I live in Boston. Let's have coffee some time.

Sue, it was amazing to meet you! I've read/heard about you for so long--to sit down (and down a shot with you, no less) with you and chat up was outstanding. I'd be truly honored and grateful if you ever do look me up when you visit! This old town is as good as ever--and you'll have to see the Community Center if we get it open by then!