Notes from Creating Change
Never one to arrive early to the airport, I am hurriedly stuffing an exaggerated amount of jackets into my poor suitcase anticipating a Denver that looks like the Coors Light commercials I see on TV. Carlos, my friend/colleague/co-conspirator (and ride to the airport), ever looking at me half bored and half curious. He asks again what is Creating Change and what happens there? I try and sum it up in one sentence, doing some cross sectoral translation, ‘Its like, imagine if RIFA (Reform Immigration for America) had a conference every year and every one from across the (immigration) political spectrum went.’ One sentence, he completely understood.
That of course didn’t help me once I was in the thick of it. Four thousand people, most of whom I don’t know. Pretty overwhelming. At its core, however, I think its actually really positive that Creating Change brings together people across the spectrum, from left to right, from the newest queer, up and coming radicals, to LGBTQ funders, to movement elders. Outside of labor, I don’t know of spaces that bring together that constellation of people in a sector, on a yearly basis.
Even for a conference newbie (not a queer newbie) the tension and question in the air was palpable. With marriage equality in its last stage of litigation (and a real domino effect across states) clearly that battle, whether it was seen by all as the most pressing issue to focus on, is over. The lack of clarity of exactly what’s next, and the real urgency and crisis of people and issues that many feel have gone ignored, is catching fire. These questions and crises hang in the air, and neither the downtown hotel, or the LGBTQ movement pageantry, can neutralize it. I know that organizing something of the scale of Creating Change takes an incredible amount of time, care and resources. And it takes even more to turn an event like this from simply being a convening to a convergence that leads to action. Moving forward, I imagine, and hope, that new initiatives and concrete action will take shape to address some of the crises, in particular I came and left very clear that the ongoing (and escalation of) violence against transgender women of color requires all hands on deck.
On the Saturday of the conference, several organizations held a press conference/rally outside of the hotel and I gotta say, it felt good and necessary to chant together. The purpose of the event was to call attention to exclusions in the President’s recent immigration executive action. We argued that the centering of relief solely on parents of U.S. citizen or legal residents’ children disproportionately excludes LGBTQ people, and we heard from people who, in fact, had been excluded. We named that we reject the dividing line of exclusion based on criminal record, and as LGBTQ communities, know literally the cost of exclusion and what people are subjected to when they are left unprotected. It made me appreciate the many ways messages can be conveyed and the nuance of intervention. It also left me hopeful that there is room to build from amidst the new work of implementation of the executive order. To support on this, there are two petitions folks asked people take action on. One is to #FreeNicoll, a Guatemalan transgender woman being held in detention and the other is to demand action to remove the exclusion of LGBTQ in executive action hosted by Familia TQLM and SONG.
Overall, in addition to reflecting on how terrible I am at ‘networking’ (lol), I thought a lot about being a queer woman of color who has worked mostly outside of the official LGBTQ sector. I think there are probably many many others like me, who are chipping away inside of labor, climate, immigration, etc and come into spaces like this and feel a kinship, but also feel very new. Inside of whatever sector one places oneself, it is important to raise the needs and visibilize LGBTQ people and perhaps important to make our presence known at these types of events. I think that in the end, perhaps, it could be a very good thing.
Lastly, I thought a lot about Jessie Hernandez. Jessie Hernandez was a young, Latina person who did not conform to gender norms who was murdered very recently by the Denver police. There was an altar, and a vigil in her memory at the conference. Clearly there was an intention and desire to support (and connect) the call for justice. Taking a few steps back, I couldn’t help but see the way in which the tragedy, the problem, the circumstances of her death, didn’t quite fit neatly into one sector. What do I mean? I mean, to my knowledge Jessie Hernandez was not undocumented, or an immigrant. I am not sure exactly what words she used to describe herself, but has been referred to as gender non conforming and not trans. Its almost some way where how intersectional this is somehow makes this case an outlier. It brings to mind the ways in which there are gaps in our reach, because beyond the efforts by her family and locally, its not clear to me how/who is ready to throw down and organize. Here’s the thing, the ways all this desmadre plays out, it doesn’t always fit into our missions or our issue areas. Human lives and circumstances don’t work that way. Our movement and organizations must fill the gaps.