Creating Change: then and now

They say that everything’s big in Texas, and that was certainly true for the annual Creating Change conference in Houston last week. Sponsored by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force for the past 26 years, Creating Change ranks as the largest such gathering of LGBT people and allies anywhere.

CC CollageI remember when …

I happened to be at the very first Creating Change, at which maybe 100 of us gathered at the Hotel Washington, then a formerly lovely hotel that had faded enough that the Task Force could afford it. Back then, I lived in D.C. and volunteered at the Task Force, and for the second Creating Change wrote grant proposals to find some funding support. As grants for LGBT causes were then rarer than blizzards in Houston, we were beside ourselves when we hit our goal of $10,000.

While all that was exciting, and there was some vague sense of “this could be the start of something,” none of us then could envision what it’s become.

Today’s conference – like the LGBT movement itself – operates on a wholly different scale. In Houston, 4,000 attendees chose from a grand buffet of institutes, workshops, and events. Hundreds of them. Everything from “The Movement Forward for LGBT Families” and “Grassroots Fundraising Strategies for Executive Directors” to “Ethics and Global LGBT Work,” “LGBT Aging Advocacy,” “Rural Organizing,” and “Strengthening the Leadership Pipeline.” Scores more dealt with our lives as LGBT people, with self, identity, and community, and still more explored spirituality and religion, and some were just plain fun (“Ballroom Dancing 101”).

Seeing the future

Our movement’s accelerating march toward marriage equality has spawned a thousand discussions about “what’s next,” what I call the “whither-the-movement” conversation. Some organizational leaders and donors have even wondered aloud whether, before long, there’s going to be any need for an LGBT movement or community, or if anyone will be motivated to put much more money or effort into it.

I happen to disagree with that point of view. While that’s a bigger subject for another blog post sometime, it did seem that the Creating Change conference itself served as a resounding answer to those questions of relevance, energy, and opportunity. I saw legions of young people, ready to take on the world. I saw hundreds of older LGBT people sharing lifetimes of learning and leading the way for the mushrooming population of LGBT seniors. I saw a radiant diversity of individuals, subcultures, lifestyles, dress, gender expressions, languages, ages, races, genders (and much more) that is our community in all its magnificent – and sometimes chaotic – glory. I saw activists strategizing, artists performing, scholars debating, leaders caucusing. I saw – and more importantly, I felt – an astonishing level of fervor and courage, of creativity and discovery.

It was like a short glimpse of the future. And it was thrilling.