In the wake of the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act and defeat of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the re-election of President Clinton and the Supreme Court defeat of Colorado's Amendment 2, some 2,000 gay, lesbian, bisexualand transgender (g/l/b/t) activists gathered from around the country to plan strategy and actions that will guide the gay movement for the upcoming year.
The 9th annual Creating Change conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, started just one day after the national elections and caps what can only be described as a roller coaster year of highs and lows for g/l/b/ t people.
"We had a very strong turnout at Creating Change because of the confluence of emotional events this year," said Melinda Paras, outgoing NGLTF executive director. "There was the euphoria following the Supreme Court ruling on Colorado's Amendment 2, then collective depression after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Employment Non-Discrimination bill (ENDA), then the ups and downs of the presidential elections. It seems activists anxious to figure out what's next flocked to Creating Change."
'What's next' for the g/l/b/t movement can be gauged by the workshops and plenary speeches at Creating Change, said Kerry Lobel, NGLTF executive director-designate. "The conference is an incubator for many new actions that shape our community's activism. It's when we come together, celebrate our victories, mourn our defeats and forge ahead." Lobel, who was named new executive director by the NGLTF board in October, was formally presented to the community at Creating Change. She takes the helm of the Task Force effective December 1, 1996.
Creating Change in Corporate America
This year the conference featured the announcement of the new national coalition of workplace groups, COLLEAGUES. The group, which features an unprecedented array of corporate and labor supporters, will fight to change how corporate America treats g/l/b/t employees. COLLEAGUES announced at Creating Change that its first projects will include sponsoring the Out and Equal in the 90's workplace conference; a "Lavender Seal of Approval" for the 10 best and worst companies; the "Executive Supports" group for management; and a resource clearinghouse for domestic partnership, anti-discrimination policies and other workplace issues.
So far, the group has announced an initial board of directors, which includes NGLTF and the Human Rights Campaign, plus g/l/b/t employee caucus representatives from AT&T, Lucent Technologies, Pride at Work (the gay union group), SEIU, AFSME, Xerox, GLOBE Federal employee group, Bell Atlantic, American Airlines and more. Interim co-presidents of COLLEAGUES are Sheryl Robertson of Lucent Technologies and Steve Horn of IBM.
Grassroots Movements Highlighted at Conference
Creating Change 1996 also hosted an unprecedented number of state g/l/b/t organizations that came together in an all-day planning intensive to build a stronger grassroots movement. Activists from state lobbies grappled with the effect of the Defense of Marriage Act on their local legislatures, among other issues.
The new National Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Community Centers brought together some 100 representatives from urban and rural centers to strengthen their network. The Alliance gelled at last year's Creating Change conference and has grown ever since. Several new community centers announced they were open for business, including the recently formed Gay/Lesbian Community Center of the Ozarks.
Bill Clinton and You: Elections in the Spotlight
Much of the buzz at Creating Change was in response to the re-election of President Clinton. At the Conference NGLTF released an analysis of the elections that, among other things, noted a six percent drop in support for Clinton over 1992 according to Voters News Service exit polling group. In 1992, 72 percent of self-identified g/l/b voters picked Clinton, compared with 66 percent this year. Exit polls also noted an increase in self-identified g/l/ b voters from 3.2 percent in 1992 to 5 percent in 1996.
"The decision of the Dole campaign to not wage an overtly anti-gay campaign, along with Clinton's endorsement of the Defense of Marriage Act and the "don't ask, don't tell" gays in the military policy, may have resulted in g/l/b/t support of Clinton diminishing," said NGLTF executive director-designate Kerry Lobel.
The Task Force welcomes the "opportunity to work with the Clinton Administration for another four years to advance an agenda of equality and fairness," said Lobel. "At the same time there clearly is a mixed relationship between the Clinton Administration and the g/l/b/t community -- sometimes positive and often strained. In 1992 we voted on our hopes with the new Administration, this year we voted on our mixed history." her analysis of the elections, NGLTF pointed out that every member of the U.S. Senate and House who voted against DOMA and up for re-election -- some of which faced close election races -- won their battle, debunking the election year gay-baiting ploy of the sponsors of the anti-gay measure.
And the Envelope, Please: Creating Change Awards Presented
Seven 1996 Creating Change awards were presented to individuals and organizations that have changed their communities for the better. Awards were presented to D.C. Gay and Lesbian Black Pride, Inc., for launching black pride events around the country; Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, co-plaintiffs in the Hawaii marriage case; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for its groundbreaking work on behalf of human rights for gays worldwide, including in South Africa and at the Beijing Women's Conference; Lani Ka'ahumanu, long- time bisexual community organizer and leader; Jonathan Katz, author of the landmark "Gay American History," now celebrating it's 20th anniversary; National Campaign For Freedom of Expression for its anti-censorship efforts; and the Utah Human Rights Coalition for its work on behalf on g/l/b/t youth and civil rights deep in the heart of Mormon country.
Bisexuals and Transgenders Create Change
Representatives of the bisexual and transgender community held a first-ever meeting at the Conference with a White House representative to discuss discrimination, violence, ENDA, bi and trans visibility and inclusivity in the Administration and other issues. Richard Socarides, outgoing White House liaison to the g/l/b/t community, met with the bi and transgender leaders to hear their concerns in a meeting that was described as productive and promising. Among other things activists pushed for future meetings with White House officials, including President Clinton.
Meanwhile, some 50 bi, trans, gay and lesbian activists picketed outside the national headquarters of the American Psychiatric Association during a torrent ial downpour. The protest was one of the first times that mainstream gay, lesbian and bisexual groups, including NGLTF, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and BiNet USA, joined transgender activists for a jointly-coordinated action. The activists protested the use of Gender Identity Disorder to pathologize transgender people and gender-variant youth as "mentally ill." In 1973, the National Gay Task Force succ essfully pushed the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
Workshops Galore and a Call To Progressive Action
Creating Change featured more than 100 workshops and caucuses clustered under several main "themes," including: Anti-Violence, Campus, Elections, Families, Fighting the Right, Fundraising, Health, International, Leadership, Legislative, Marriage, Media, Organizational Development, Organizing, People of Color, Political Questions, Public Schools, Aging/Ageism, Se x/Sexuality/Gender Identify, Spirituality, Surviving and Thriving, Transgender, Workplace, Youth and more. The youth track in particular attracted a large crowd as the leadership of the young g/l/b/t community convened to lay out organizing and visibility strategies.
Creating Change plenary speaker Carmen Vazquez, public policy director at the N.Y. Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center and long-time activist, galvanized the conference with her speech, titled "Wounded Attachments." A call to action for a real progressive movement, Vazquez exhorted, "I believe in our spirit and I believe in our capacity to embrace not only freedom -- individual freedom -- but liberation. I believe in our capacity to understand, and to take hold and give voice, leadership and vision to the notion that liberation isn't solely about the attainment of individual rights but about the attainment of justice for all. I believe that despite our wounds...we are uniquely positioned to take leadership in an American Movement for Social Justice." Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank and African-American lesbian poet Cheryl Clarke also delivered moving plenary speeches.