WASHINGTON, DC---November 19, 1998--- Shot gun blasts, molotov cocktails, and death threats have not stopped Pat Cramer from creating a space for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community of southwestern Pennsylvania to gather. Despite death threats and physical attacks, the Casa Nova bar remains open. In an emotional speech at the closing session of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's (NGLTF) Creating Change conference, Pat Cramer, a straight woman and owner of the Casa Nova, discussed the ceaseless harassment and violence she and the bar's patrons have lived through for the past two years. Cramer's speech culminated a powerful conference and painfully and poignantly epitomized so much of what the struggle of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is about and the importance of straight allies to this struggle. At the close of Cramer's remarks, participants spontaneously emptied the muffins and morning rolls from the breadbaskets on their tables and passed the baskets around the large ballroom. Conferees dug deep in their pockets for one dollar, ten dollar, and twenty-dollar bills and raised more than $1100 for the Casa Nova legal defense fund.
"Pat Cramer reminds us that the bravest people in our movement are the ones on the front lines in small cities and towns across the country. Pat Cramer reminds us that the commitment of resources for organizing in state and local communities is not an option, it's a must. Pat Cramer reminds us why it is so important for our movement to gather every year to share ideas, resources, and strategies," said Kerry Lobel, NGLTF executive director.
Creating Change is the largest annual political conference of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement. Sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, this year's conference, the 11th annual, was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from November 11 - 15. Nearly 2000 grassroots organizers, funders, media, students, policy makers, lawyers, social service providers, organizers of community centers, anti-violence projects, state political organizations, religious groups, and more gathered for five full days of workshops, keynote speeches, networking meetings, impassioned debate, a rally, strategy discussions, and even some socializing.
One of the conference's biggest events was a rally in a packed ballroom of more than 1000 conferees to launch Equality Begins at Home (EBAH). Equality Begins at Home is a national campaign of coordinated actions in state capitals across the country during the week of March 21 - 27, 1999. At the rally, dozens of state activists - joined by plenary speakers Patricia Ireland, National Organization for Women president, and Massachusetts state representative Byron Rushing - filled the stage holding Equality Begins at Home banners and wearing Equality Begins at Home t-shirts. EBAH banners were also draped along ballroom's balcony railings. This was the backdrop as Equality Begins at Home national coordinator Paula Ettelbrick and Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel roused the crowd with speeches about the critical need for state organizing and the enormous opportunity for movement building EBAH presents. State activists Rick Garcia of Illinois, Scott Fearing of Minnesota, and Gloria Nieto of New Mexico, as well as and youth activist Penelope Williams of New York and the Task Force's Urvashi Vaid also contributed to the air of excitement with impassioned calls to the crowd to get involved with Equality Begins at Home organizing in their communities. The rally ended with a campy live performance of This Land is Your Land - with the appropriately modified refrain "this land was made for queers like me."
Equality Begins at Home ideas were shared and plans made during an all day meeting of the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Statewide Political Organizations. Plans include, among other things, a prayer breakfast in Virginia, a billboard campaign in Louisiana, and a rally in New York. There were also numerous workshops on state organizing, including a session on getting out the vote, coalition building, and repealing sodomy laws. In addition, the Federation elected new executive committee members, including Gina Reiss (NJ), who joins Roger Leishman (IL) as co-chair.
In addition to keynote speeches and skills building workshops, Creating Change is also known as space where debates are encouraged and flourish. This year was no different. With nearly 2000 activists representing a wide cross section of the movement, there were many impassioned ideas, discussions, and opinions. Some of the more pressing topics at this year's conference was an ongoing debate about the Millennium March on Washington being planned for April 2000 as well as the issue of sexual repression. These conversations fed into larger discussions about the overall direction of the GLBT movement.
"Creating Change is such an important place for people to have the hard discussions that are necessary to growing and developing as a movement. Our movement is not monolithic, and it will never and should never be. Political dissent and debate about strategy is a sign of our maturity. NGLTF will continue to appreciate the political diversity of our movement, encourage self-examination and critiques, and model ways in which these conversations can happen respectfully and constructively," said Kerry Lobel.
Another major theme of the conference was youth, and youth were ever present throughout Creating Change. The local host committee included a youth subcommittee that coordinated free meals, housing, a youth information table, and reduced rates to conference events for youth. An all-day Youth Leadership Institute was organized by the Task Force and the National Youth Advocacy Coalition and was attended by approximately 80 youth. Among other things, participants discussed youth involvement in Equality Begins at Home. Plans are already taking shape and include a youth lobby day in California and a youth summit in Connecticut. In addition to more than 25 youth-related workshops, there was a two-part emergency campus meeting to discuss increases in anti-gay hostility on campuses. The meeting was attended by more than one hundred students, GLBT campus center directors, and allies who strategized on ways to confront and eradicate hate incidents on campuses. Both the quantity and quality of youth sessions at Creating Change were the result of years of advocacy by youth activists for greater inclusion in the conference.
The Creating Change Awards are a conference staple. This year, the Audre Lorde Project of Brooklyn, the Bisexual Resource Center of Boston, José Sarria of the Imperial Court, and Pat Cramer, owner of the Casa Nova bar, were honored. The Task Force in turn was honored by President Clinton who issued a statement in celebration of the Task Force's 25th anniversary. Openly gay presidential appointee Richard Socarides personally delivered the letter to the conference.
This year, the four plenary sessions were organized as panels with each panel addressing a different theme or issue. Linda Chavez Thompson of the AFL-CIO was a special guest of the conference and gave remarks prior to the opening plenary. Then, presidential appointee and former Task Force executive director Virginia Apuzzo discussed the topic of personal politics and the movement. Also addressing this topic were Richard Burns of the New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, Sydney Levy of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Yale University political science professor Cathy Cohen. National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland and the Honorable Byron Rushing of the Massachusetts House of Representatives addressed the role of allies in the GLBT movement. Gary Schwartz of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, writer and activist Sarah Schulman, writer and comedian Kate Clinton, and Graciela Sanchez of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center discussed the issue of censorship in the arts. The closing plenary addressed the topic of families and included Marjorie Hill of the Unity Fellowship Movement, Felicia Park Rogers of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, and Harold Kooden, author and national coordinator of Psychologists for Social Action.
The largest Creating Change ever was an appropriate milestone for the Task Force's 25th anniversary year. There were a number of events celebrating the Task Force's silver anniversary, including a special gathering of former board members. Board members from the '70s, '80s, and '90s gathered to reminisce and celebrate. They also decide to hold an alumnae/i board meeting at all future Creating Changes.
"For eleven years, Creating Change has offered to all of us a time and place to question, affirm, challenge, and grow our political movement," said Kerry Lobel. "This year's conference was no different. Our gathering in Pittsburgh was immense and amazing, vibrant and vigorous. We live and practice our politics in a democracy. Our movement should be no less a democracy than that we are trying to create. Let thousands of voices be raised each year at Creating Change because that is one of the ways change will be created. We invite all those who share in this struggle to join us in Oakland, California November 10 - 14, 1999," added Lobel.