Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, is the opening plenary speaker on Thursday night, January 26. Jealous's administration sponsored and hosted a panel on LGBT issues at the 2011 NAACP Annual Convention in Los Angeles, as well as launched the LGBT Task Force of the NAACP, chaired by Julian Bond.
"We're very excited to have Mr. Jealous, a new and very energetic leader. It was an easy choice for us," said Hyde. "We respect his work bringing the NAACP into a more active support of LGBT people and families. We have in Mr. Jealous a strong ally."
A Maryland resident, Jealous is also a "hometown guy," Hyde said. "We thought that too was important in our choice." Jealous also has an adopted brother who is gay.
Speaking of local connections, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be present at Thursday's welcoming reception at 7 p.m. First Lady Katie O'Malley is scheduled to speak at the opening plenary later that night.
On Friday, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey will deliver her annual State of the Movement address. This address will "recognize key advances and progress made in the past year and discuss challenges in the year to come," said Hyde.
Saturday's plenary event features a panel on international LGBT issues. While the conference has always had workshops on these issues, according to Hyde, this will be the first year featuring a plenary session devoted to this timely topic.
"In the positive wake of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's address in which she said, 'LGBT rights are human rights,' this is a great opportunity for folks to learn more about how we as activists can support colleagues around the world," she said.
Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, will moderate the panel. Panelists include: Nisha Ayub, who works with transgender communities through the Pink Triangle Foundation of Malaysia; Joel Simpson, founder of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Guyana; and Val Kalende, a Ugandan activist and co-founder of the only lesbian organization in the country.
Hyde is also expecting the participation of Daniel Baer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of State, and the Director of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. According to Hyde, Baer is the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Department of State and has been a leader in the expansion of LGBT human rights worldwide, under Secretary of State Clinton.
Creating Change will also have its first federal Lobby Day this year. There are over 100 people registered for the event, which will take place on Thursday, January 26 in Washington, D.C. The Lobby Day begins with training sessions at the conference, followed by a bus trip to Washington, D.C. for Capitol Hill visits.
"Members of our staff from public policy and government were excited about the proximity of this conference to Washington, D.C., and wanted to create an opportunity for Creating Change attendees, especially those who live far away from our capitol, to visit with elected representatives," said Hyde.
Spirituality during times of change
Lest you think Creating Change will be all speakers, panels, information and network building, think again. Even the busiest activist needs some time for reflection. Rev. Meredith Moise heads the Spiritual Needs subcommittee, which has planned a variety of spiritual and religious programs for the conference.
On Friday, there will be Jum'ah prayer (Islamic prayer service) during the day, and Shabbat (Jewish service) in the evening. Sunday's interfaith service will have participants from around the nation. Moise will be involved, possibly doing the welcome.
"We are working in conjunction with the Practice Spirit, Do Justice cohort, which is the Welcoming Resources wing of the Task Force. Their mission is to broaden the faith perspective of the LGBT movement, to provide resources for congregations to become open and affirming, and to spread the LGBT message in faith communities," said Moise.
Practice Spirit, Do Justice is a curriculum and set of workshops and trainings focused specifically on building the political power of faith-based activists. Launched at Creating Change 2011 in Minneapolis, the successful program will have 35 sessions at this year's conference.
"We believe that the capacity of faith-based activists working alongside LGBT activists will strengthen us and put us in a much better position to counter some of the anti-LGBT religious rhetoric in this country," said Hyde. "This meets an important need and attracts people who do work within faith-based communities."
There will also be clergy on call during the conference, and those interested in receiving pastoral counseling can go to the Local Hospitality Table between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. This service is provided by Maryland Faith for Equality, an interfaith organization that promotes LGBT civil rights advocacy.
"Creating change is vulnerable, courageous work. When we are claiming our truth, we can feel alone and unsure of the path we are taking. None of us can do this work alone. This is a service to help you focus on your truth and support your journey," states the organization.
A little hospitality goes a long way
We're not called Charm City for nothing! According to local planning committee co-chair Matt Thorn, there will be six hospitality suites in the Hilton Baltimore, each designed for "like-minded individuals who want to stay close to the hotel, mingle, eat, and enjoy some programming."
For example, on Friday night in the Trans Suite, Michelle Farrell will be showing her autobiographical film, Unraveling Michelle (2008). The Youth Suite is sure to have activities to attract budding teenage activists, while the Health and Wellness Suite will focus more on education. The other suites are Bisexuality, People of Color, and Elder/Differently Abled, proving that there's something for everyone here.
Thorn and his committee have raised about $15,000 to provide food, resources, programming, and a welcome bag to the expected 3,000 attendees.
Another way to show our Baltimore pride and to make participants feel welcome in our town is at the Hospitality and Information Table. Sharon Brackett leads the Local Hospitality and Information Committee, and is prepared to welcome visitors to the Hilton Baltimore with open arms.
"This is the help desk of Baltimore. It will be staffed by Baltimore-savvy volunteers who will also have a computer and Internet access," said Brackett. "We will be helping folks with everything from city information and public transit to nightlife to crab cakes."
Volunteering for Creating Change
Although Creating Change is right around the corner, it's not too late to give your time to this worthy cause. As an added bonus, those who can volunteer for four hours each day receive free admission to the conference, a $275-375 savings.
Matt Thorn, who oversees the Volunteer Committee, has about 350 volunteers to date, and would like to reach 400 by conference time. Last minute volunteers need to attend the January 22 training. More information can be found online at CreatingChange.org.
"This is a conference where we expect over 3,000 people from around the world. Volunteering gives you the ability to have a hand in what is going on," said Thorn. "It's hard to describe the size of it. Once you are in it, it's a whirlwind of what is involved."
Host committee chairs live and learn (before the conference even begins)
As anyone who has ever worked on a committee already knows, its hard work, because you are responsible for producing something impressive, something almost larger than the sum of all its parts, and you do the hard work trusting that the cause is worth-while and the work will pay off.
For Rev. Meredith Moise, Matt Thorn, Rev. Sam Offer, and Sharon Brackett, much of the hard work has already been done, and they have faced challenges and reaped rewards in the months leading up to the conference.
"Sometimes it's like herding cats because you have so many people doing so many things," said Moise. Brackett echoed that sentiment.
"We've had to get people from Baltimore and around the state all moving in the same direction," she said. "We had a large group of people who didn't know each other very well, and once we started to trust each other, we could be productive."
The challenges for Thorn were more in describing the scope of the conference to be to the public.
"This will be my first Creating Change conference, although I've been to similar ones in the past. For a lot of people in Baltimore, it will be their first as well," he said. "Relaying to the public that this is a massive thing, with 3,000 LGBT individuals was challenging. It's going to be eye-popping for people."
And the rewards?
They range from "the establishment of new, marvelous friendships and finding support and energy in unexpected places" (Brackett) to "the connections I've made with people as we've rallied together and created relationships" (Thorn).
"Working with various activists and being able to view a significant change in Baltimore has been most rewarding," said Moise. "Visitors may come in and have heard a lot of negativity about our city, but I think people will come away from this conference really loving Baltimore. At the end of the day, I am confident that our city will show its best side."
GLCCB Partners with Youth of the Rainbow for Creating Change!
GLCCB is partnering with Youth of the Rainbow to provide their LGBT youth a voice at The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Conference: Creating Change. Denise R. Duarte, the GLCCB artist in residence, a Master of Fine Art in Community Arts program candidate at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in collaboration with MICA, will facilitate the project. Youth of the Rainbow, a local non-profit, was founded in July, 2011, to provide life skills as well as employment development for LGBT youth.
Youth of the Rainbow will conceive, design and create a LGBT issue-based multi-media mural to be unveiled at Creating Change. The mural will serve as a platform of expression for the youth regarding the LGBT issue priorities that impact their lives.
Creating Change will also be hosting a Youth Hospitality Suite during the conference.
The GLCCB Creating Change art project was funded by MICA's Student Affairs Community Service Fund.
Xbox 360 games needed!
The conference is free to youth 16 years and younger. Baltimore youth 16+ years can attend the conference for free if they volunteer for four hours per day. Register to volunteer at www.creatingchange.org/volunteer.