Creating Change quick recap

I’ve spent the last few days in Denver at Creating Change, the huge annual LGBTQ activism conference. This is my third time going, and, as always, it’s been a lot of fun. This post has a short list of observations from the conference. It’s not complete, but it’s a few things that come to mind as I sit tiredly in my host’s guest bedroom.

– The recent shooting of Jessie Hernandez, a queer, gender nonconforming Latina teenager, by the Denver police, was a big deal at this conference, what with it being in Denver and the victim being a fellow LGBTQ person. Workshop facilitators were asked to have a moment of silence for Jessie during their sessions. There was an altar for her, with cards and signs made by participants in the day-long institute on policing and criminalization of LGBTQ people, in the main lobby area. There were memorial signs with pictures of her posted all over the conference. Near the start of the opening plenary, a group of mostly-local young people and trans women of color marched on the stage, took the microphone, and spoke about the shooting and other killings of trans people of color – among other things,

The Jessie Hernandez altar at Creating Change, surrounded by attendee-made cards and signs.

The Jessie Hernandez altar at Creating Change, surrounded by attendee-made cards and signs.

calling out the conference for inviting the mayor of a city with, according to them, an unusually high rate of police killing people, to speak at the plenary – and chanting and waving signs, as much of the audience (at least, the parts that I could see) had their fists in the air and chanted right along with them. Interestingly, the mayor then did not speak at the plenary. There was going to be a march, but Hernandez’s family changed their minds about whether they were okay with that, so the march was replaced by a speakout at the altar.

– In general, Creating Change seemed way more interested in police violence and protest-based action than in the other years that I’ve gone, which I suspect is because of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. It was the first time since I started going that there was no uniformed contingent from the host city’s police department. There were workshops, including one that I ran, on protest/direct action, which I don’t remember in the two previous years – this was the third year that I’d proposed that workshop, and the first that I got it in. The three queer black women who founded Black Lives Matter got an award. There was a whole delegation of queer Ferguson activists there (one of whom spoke on a panel at the day-long institute on policing and criminalization of LGBTQ people), there was a workshop session on Ferguson featuring Ferguson activists, and the opening plenary was on Ferguson. I thought it was great that they had a plenary on Ferguson, with speakers of color, but given that there was a whole delegation from Ferguson sitting right there in the front, I don’t understand at all why they didn’t have somebody from Ferguson on that stage as a speaker.

– More-radical-than-thou-ism is not particularly attractive. Neither are white radicals pretending that they know better than people of color what is useful for people of color or how to best ally with people of color. I think I’m going to do a follow-up post on the specific incident that I’m talking about because it reflects a phenomenon that I’ve seen variations of often enough that it deserves more than a bullet point.

– Even though the facilitator never showed up, the session on challenging biphobia led to one of the best discussions on biphobia that I’ve seen. Once it became clear that no facilitator was coming, the attendees just got in a circle and discussed biphobia ourselves, and it was wonderful. People were coming from a lot of different perspectives, from people who are experienced bi activists and/or part of established communities, to people looking for community when they have none back home, to people struggling with their own internalized biphobia. There were participants who, after the session, stated that they were now willing to come out to non-bi people as bi for the first time.

– I learned about an area of activism that I’d never heard about before, fair judiciary/fair courts activism. I do a lot of activism, so it’s pretty cool when I learn about something that’s completely new to me. One of the people on that panel was a gay Latina (that was how she described herself) who is a justice on the Colorado state supreme court, and I learned from her that there have only been three out LGBTQ state supreme court justices in the US, ever.

– I thought it was neat that at the end of the day-long institute on policing and criminalization, we actually got the chance to do several small actions around police and state violence. I already mentioned the making of decorations for Jessie Hernandez’s altar. We also had the chance to sign a couple of positions, sign up any organizations that we represented for a campaign to stop prison rape in Texas, and write a letter to a trans prisoner. Small things, yes, but it’s nice to get to do and not just talk.

– Going to the session on Deaf Allyship 101 (presented in American Sign Language, with ASL-to-English interpreters for us non-ASL-speakers) a few hours before I presented my own session was, in addition to being generally educational, immediately applicable. One of the things we did during the Deaf Allyship 101 session was think about and discuss ways to make our own events more accessible to Deaf people. I was able to incorporate a couple of them into my own session, and it turned out that one of my audience members was Deaf.

– The 16th Street Mall (a pedestrian-oriented downtown area) in Denver is really nice, and really beautiful at night. I loved just walking up and down it, and did so several times. I can’t figure out how the pedicab drivers make any money though, because there’s so many of them just on the Mall. I wouldn’t have thought there were enough pedicab customers in such a small area to support that many pedicab drivers. Also I did not expect Denver to be so warm in February – don’t get me wrong, it was great, but I don’t expect anywhere north of the Deep South to have highs in the 60s at that time of year.

– There was an immigrant youth group, the IYC, that posted an open letter to the Task Force (which runs Creating Change) this evening, calling out the conference for, among other things, being cost-prohibitive for most poor and working-class people (they are definitely correct about this), fetishizing and tokenizing youth while not giving them decision-making power within the conference, holding the conference at a choice of hotel such that conference were crossing a picket line, and having too many sessions where people were presenting about a marginalized group that they don’t belong to (particularly undocumented immigrants) and doing things that were distressing to audience members in that group. I really hope that the Task Force addresses these complaints. Through action, not just talking.

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