Creating Change 26 refocuses on HIV, trans identities

This piece originally appeared in the Windy City Times.

With more than 4,000 people in attendance, the 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change finished up in Houston, Texas, after running Jan. 29-Feb. 2.

Hosted by the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force ( NGLTF ), it pulled people from around the country—and world—to offer activists, organizers, students, elders and all other folks across the LGBTQ community a space to share knowledge, get energy and collaborate.

Programming started, as usual, with two days of daylong institutes, offering attendees 25 options for intensive training on issues such as racial justice and college campus organizing. The foci of this year’s conference centered on HIV/AIDS and ending violence against transgender women.

The conference got its official start with an emblazoned keynote speech from actress and trans-rights advocate Laverne Cox. The actress, who plays Sophia in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, brought the audience to its knees during a powerful keynote speech that covered everything from her experience growing up trans to where the LGBTQ movement needs to go.

“Some days I wake up, and I’m that 3-, 4-, 5-, 12-, 13-year-old kid who grew up in Mobile, Ala., who was chased home from school by bullies almost every day,” Cox said.

“Some days I wake up, and I am that black trans woman walking the street in NYC, and people are yelling, ‘That is a man!’ And I’ve come to understand that when a trans woman is called a man, that is an act of violence.”

“Loving trans people, I believe, is a revolutionary act,” she added.

Other speeches during the keynote included Houston’s out lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, and the emcee of ceremonies, the hilarious Kate Clinton.

The keynote helped to kick off the 24 academy training sessions; 309 workshops and caucuses; and a variety of creative spaces, exhibitors and vendors.

Workshops ran the gamut from body image and shaming of effeminacy in the gay male community to how evangelist Christians have “exported” their anti-LGBT agendas to countries such as Uganda.

Putting a focus on HIV/AIDS, there were 16 different sessions on the topic covering many of the intersections HIV hits, including LGBTQ youth, gay Black men, public policy and international policy in Uganda. There was also a plenary panel, Why We Can’t Wait: Let’s End AIDS Now.” The conference also offered on-site HIV testing, a service that hasn’t been previously offered in the recent history of the event.

During the annual State of the Movement Address on Jan. 31, NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey delivered a summary of the past year’s struggles and triumphs, and challenged the silos from which social justice sometimes acts. She challenged the idea that immigration rights, reproductive rights and racial justice were not queer rights.

She said, “We will be building a bigger base of skilled organizers and activists to work on the ground at the intersections of issues like reproductive justice, economic and racial justice, immigration and our lives as LGBT people.

“I ask you to take a moment and look around this room. Really look. All the way to the back, to the front. Really look. See this room. When you head home from Creating Change, or face a tough day, when you hesitate or even falter, I ask you to remember this day, this week here in Houston and have strength, know that you are not alone, you can press on and that we will succeed!”

This year’s conference ( at the Hilton of the Americas, in downtown Houston ) brought a record turnout—more than 4,000 attendees. To put this into perspective, the 2010 conference had just 2,500 people, and the 2013 conference had more than 3,000.

Thousands more watched the plenary sessions as they were live streamed online, and attendees and those who were not physical present alike interacted on social media with the hashtag #CC14.

Festivities concluded with a brunch. Among other speakers, Kate Clinton announced Southwest Airlines as the recipient of NGLTF’s Corporate Leadership Award. The conference ended with a rocking performance from bisexual musician Nona Hendryx.

Next year’s conference will be in Denver, Colo., and the 2016 conference will take place in Chicago.

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