Guest Opinion: Creating Change makes me sick

  • by by Emmett Patterson
  • Wednesday February 8, 2023
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Emmett Patterson. Photo: Courtesy Emmett Patterson
Emmett Patterson. Photo: Courtesy Emmett Patterson

On February 17, the National LGBTQ Task Force will gather thousands of activists in San Francisco for Creating Change, a national conference for queer movement building. From the growing attacks on trans people to proposed legislation erasing queer theory and Black history from education, being organized to fight for our people is essential.

However, the task force is knowingly putting thousands in our community in harm's way without any plans to prevent the spread of COVID at the conference. Officials are not requiring vaccination or masking, offering COVID testing, or planning for how to support attendees who get sick.

In its Creating Change Public Health Policy, the task force absolves all responsibility for preventing COVID and instead will rely on what the local public health authority determines is a high enough case count for masking at the local level. As of February 1, 93% of people in the U.S. live in an area of substantial or high transmission of COVID, which matters when thousands of attendees are traveling from outside of San Francisco. The Community Transmission Level in San Francisco alone is substantial and growing. COVID cases are vastly undercounted since many of those still regularly testing use at-home tests and may not report positive results to health departments.

The task force refusing to offer decisive protections demonstrates that those of us who are at higher risk for COVID harms aren't valued as movement builders and organizers. The COVID pandemic continues to disable and kill thousands a week in the U.S. and is an intersectional reality for queer people. COVID infections, deaths, and now long-COVID disproportionately impact Black people, Indigenous peoples, and people of color as well as disabled people, elders, and lower income people.

Before I became immunocompromised and vulnerable for COVID harms at the beginning of the pandemic, a decade prior, I embraced being a trans man. Doing so radicalized me around health equity and disability justice. I grew into my activism every time I was denied health services or was assaulted by medical providers. That anger built as other trans men, some lovers and mentors, died around me from easily preventable illnesses, only because they were discriminatorily denied access to basic health care and insurance.

In 2013, this rage brought me to the task force, where I worked as a Policy Institute Fellow and supported the organization's fight for non-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act. In my 20s, I became part of Creating Change's Sex Track Faculty and found myself in HIV activism. I saw how a pandemic could galvanize our people to organize while the government looked the other way.

In the past year, the U.S. government has left vulnerable people in our queer movement for dead and put us all at risk of developing long-COVID. Rather than creating a safer gathering or extending legitimate virtual access to those of us who are staying in place as it did in 2021, the task force chooses to fall in line with our government and look the other way as this pandemic rages on.

Since the task force is ignoring the reality of COVID and has not compiled any COVID prevention information, here's how you can care for yourself and others if attending:

Bring high quality masks (KN95s and N95s). These masks have proved to be the most protective, but any mask you can access is better than no mask. Project N95 has a free mask program ( You can also find free masks at your local health department.

If you have access to free testing, PCR test or rapid test before the conference. Consider bringing some rapid tests for you to keep track of your COVID status.

You can find info on when to test, how to mask, and how to connect with others safely at

Creating Change is a place where many of us meet up with lovers, hookups, play partners, and other people we want to be extra close to. Check out COVID-cautious sex practices at

If you're feeling unwell before the conference, stay home and reach out to a health care provider. Consider creating an emergency plan before you arrive if you develop COVID symptoms, which may include having point people to bring you food, alternative sleeping arrangements if sharing a room, and having masks to wear if you need to leave to get medical treatment.

Aside from trying to make the conference safer, make a point to emphatically call out the task force for excluding those vulnerable to COVID: It's those of us who cannot travel during this pandemic; those of us who could meaningfully attend and organize with our fellow activists if Creating Change continued its virtual model from 2021; and those of us just trying to survive the violence of ableism, racism, and poverty at the core of this pandemic.

There are other realities where more of us could safely gather. The task force isn't willing to protect you more than they are willing to pocket your $600 registration fee and sponsorship money, choosing to embrace a "normal" that is exclusionary and willfully negligent.

Creating Change 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the task force itself. The organization has forgotten its history and the history of the people it supposedly represents. In doing so, the task force makes me sick, and it is perfectly content to make you sick, too.

Emmett Patterson (he/him) is a disabled, trans health activist and writer living in Washington, D.C.

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