National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change heads to SF for 1st time

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday February 8, 2023
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Kierra Johnson, right, now the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, joined then-executive director Rea Carey on stage at a Creating Change conference. Photo: Courtesy National LGBTQ Task Force
Kierra Johnson, right, now the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, joined then-executive director Rea Carey on stage at a Creating Change conference. Photo: Courtesy National LGBTQ Task Force

Thousands of LGBTQ activists from around the United States will descend upon San Francisco for the National LGBTQ Task Force's 35th annual Creating Change conference.

It will be the first time for San Francisco to host the task force's signature grassroots five-day conference in the city, which historically has been a hotbed of LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activism as well as other progressive movements. The event takes place February 17-21.

Oakland hosted Creating Change in 2005, as the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time, and in 1999. Back then, same-sex marriage (legalized nationwide in 2015), LGBTQ people in the military and the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (repealed in 2010); racial justice; Social Security; and transgender rights were priorities of the task force and at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. Today, many of those issues remain on the organization's agenda.

The upcoming conference theme is "The State of the Movement: Our Past. Our Present. Our Future." and will kick off the task force's 50th anniversary. The task force was founded in 1973 as the National Gay Task Force, and later renamed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to advance the "full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people," which remains its goal five decades later. The organization is viewed as more progressive than the Human Rights Campaign, the other national LGBTQ rights organization.

Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) welcomed the task force's conference in a statement.

"San Francisco has long been blessed by our big, beautiful, vibrant LGBTQ community," Pelosi stated. "It is my privilege — as San Francisco's proud representative in the Congress — to join in welcoming the National LGBTQ Task Force Creating Change conference to our magnificent City by the Bay. For half a century, the National LGBTQ Task Force has been indispensable: leading the charge for freedom, justice and equality for all."

This month's gathering will be the first time more than 2,500 activists and movement thought leaders will convene in person since the COVID pandemic began in 2020. Creating Change was last held in person in Dallas in January 2020, shortly before pandemic lockdowns were in place in much of the country that March.

Keynote speakers for Creating Change are "Pose" star and activist Angelica Ross and X Gonzalez, who survived the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida and is a gun violence prevention activist.

Ross, a trans woman, is a Task Force Policy Institute fellow alumna. Best known for her role as Candy in FX's "Pose," she is accomplished on the screen as well as behind the scenes as an award-winning producer and actress. She is also president and founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, a career training organization for transgender people.

Gonzalez received the task force's Changemaker Award in October 2022. The annual award is given to an individual or group that embodies the task force's vision where LGBTQ people are free to be themselves, work toward removing barriers, and is committed to transforming society for future generations, according to a news release from the organization.

Recent attacks from drag story hour events to numerous proposed anti-LGBTQ bills to targeted violence against the queer community are some of the key issues that will be addressed at Creating Change this month, organizers said.

Better together

"What we know is that the LGBTQ community is stronger and strongest when we are back ... in community," said task force Executive Director Kierra Johnson.

Johnson stepped into the role to lead the organization after longtime executive director Rea Carey stepped down in early 2021. This will be the first time Johnson will address Creating Change attendees in person as the organization's leader and give its State of the Movement address.

The task force has a budget of about $10.4 million, according to its 2020 IRS Form 990. Johnson, a 46-year-old bisexual Black woman hired as deputy director of the organization in 2018, was unanimously selected by the board of directors to lead the task force and started in the position February 1, 2021. Carey earned about $297,000 in salary and benefits as executive director; while Johnson earned about $182,000 in salary and benefits as deputy director, according to the 2020 IRS form, the latest available.

The B.A.R. noted that since 2020, five of the United States' major LGBTQ organizations are now led by queer Black women, including the task force.

"We are on the precipice of a new movement," Johnson said.

(The others are Kelley Robinson at HRC, Imani Rupert-Gordon at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Stacey Stevenson at Family Equality, and Melanie Willingham-Jaggers at GLSEN.)

Giving voice

One of the hallmarks of Creating Change has been the diversity of its attendees and giving voice to every community and identity within the queer rainbow.

"I fell in love with it because I found a space where I could be my whole authentic self as a queer person of color," said Jeremy Rye, whose first Creating Change was in 2002. "I found those who are like me ... like-minded individuals who straddle many different roles and who care passionately about social justice and making change for queer and trans communities and the other communities that we belong to. That's what keeps me coming back."

The 43-year-old San Francisco gay man who joined the task force's board in 2020 is proud Creating Change is happening in the city. He believes "the rich legacy that San Francisco offers to our communities from the Compton riots to Harvey Milk to the first same-sex marriages being performed here [in] 2004," will provide inspiration to attendees, he said.

Matt Foreman, a gay man who is a former executive director of the task force, said the grassroots conference is important to the LGBTQ community.

"Creating Change has been, I think, an essential part of [a] diverse movement coming together on a regular basis to hear about what's going on, to plan for the future, to learn about successful strategies," said Foreman, who led the organization from 2003-2008. "It really has been a homecoming for people that work in the movement for a very long time. It's been a really great introduction to ... young people to meet their peers across the country."

Foreman said Creating Change provides the space for LGBTQ activists to "understand new challenges on the electoral front, on the legislative front, [and] violence against our people."

Since stepping down in 2008, Foreman has funded the movement as the San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund's senior program director of LGBTQ equality. However, the Haas fund's LGBTQ grants will end this year, as the B.A.R. reported in 2022.

Former National LGBTQ Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel led a protest during Creating Change in Oakland, California, following an anti-trans attack, in 1999. Photo: Courtesy National LGBTQ Task Force  

50 for the next 50 years
Eric Marcus, founder and host of the Making Gay History podcast, will kick off Creating Change's opening plenary.

Creating Change was founded in 1988 after the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. According to a conference timeline, in 1990, Creating Change brought together 700 LGBTQ activists from across the U.S. outside of Washington, D.C. That conference resulted in activists launching the "It's Time Minnesota" campaign to pass the country's first gender identity-inclusive non-discrimination law in 1993.

Since then, Creating Change attendees have been on the ground to push for inclusion of LGBTQ people in the U.S. census and transgender rights, among many other issues affecting the queer community.

"Creating Change has always been about continuing to celebrate who we are unapologetically," said Johnson, "but it is also about reinvigorating ourselves for the fight and reminding ourselves that we're not alone.

"That we are moving this country, we are moving our communities, we are moving policy towards equity and liberation and we're doing that together," she continued.

The task force will honor the late Urvashi Vaid, a previous executive director of the organization (1989-1992). ALOK, Vaid's gender-nonconforming relative and a performance artist and activist, will help honor Vaid, who died from recurring cancer in May 2022, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Vaid co-founded Creating Change with Sue Hyde, a longtime LGBTQ activist with the task force, during her tenure at the helm of the organization.

"We'll have an opportunity to just mourn together, which we haven't had a chance to do in many years, and so it will feel good to be in community with each other in that way," said Johnson about the loss of Vaid and many other activists and community members during COVID.

Creating Change is one of the task force's hallmarks. The conference brings together activists and thought leaders from academia, business, and government to discuss issues, learn, and strategize.

More than 150 workshops and caucuses, including about 22 daylong institutes February 17-18, are planned to address issues such as gun violence prevention; climate change; housing justice; economic justice; faith; race; intersectionality; education; families; digital strategy; and more. Plenaries will be streamed for those who are unable to attend Creating Change in person.

"Regardless of what you're into, we've got something for you," said Johnson.

Gonzalez, 23, will speak on a panel about gun violence.

"LGBTQ people are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes," according to a report that analyzed hate crimes from 2017-2019 released in December by the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think-tank at UCLA School of Law.

On a lighter note, attendees will also play trivia with "Jeopardy!" champ Amy Schneider, a trans woman who lives in Oakland, and party and socialize.

Ross will close the conference with fellow "Pose" cast member and activist Dyllón Burnside, speaking about "the future of the movements in our community," said Johnson, who will join in the conversation.

Creating Change organizers are being "mindful of both COVID and security," said Cathy Renna, communications director for the task force. President Joe Biden's administration announced January 30 it planned to end the national public health emergency for COVID in May. California will end its health state of emergency February 28, Governor Gavin Newsom announced last October.

Online registration for Creating Change ends February 13. On-site registrations open February 16 at 4 the Hilton Union Square, 333 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco. Conference tickets are $600. Some financial assistance is available, according to the website.

Volunteers are still needed. Sign up to volunteer here.

Updated, 2/9/23: This article has been updated to indicate that the gun violence panel as previously published with Club Q owners and representatives from Everytown for Gun Safety wasn't confirmed. We will update with additional panelists when we get the information.

Updated, 2/9/23: This article has been updated with a statement from Congressmember Nancy Pelosi.

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