5 Big Takeaways From Creating Change

By Daniel Villarreal

Originally published on Advocate.com January 28 2013 12:27 AM ET

Not everyone had a chance to hit up Atlanta this weekend and attend Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's 25th National Conference on LGBT Equality. That's why we've collected five of the best sessions from the conference.

They include a plenary session on LGBT immigration reform, a fascinating drunken conversation about the future of LGBT activism and a delightful presentation on gender-bending children's books from the author of Heather Has Two Mommies.

Best of all, our takeaways show just how much the LGBT rights movement has changed since Stonewall. It's no longer just about the freedom to love — it's about the freedom to live in a radically expressive and humane way.

 

 
1) Why Immigration Rights Are LGBT Rights
 
This Tuesday, President Obama will discuss his plans for immigration reform for the approximately 11 million undocumented citizens living in the U.S.  But up to now, he's been a bit of two minds on the issue.
 
On one side, he has deported record levels of undocumented immigrants at an average of 32,886 per month. (That's 12,000 more than under George W. Bush.) But on the other, he has championed ways for young immigrants to avoid deportation through DACA and even supported their becoming full-fledged U.S. citizens through the prospective Dream Act.
 
In the Saturday plenary session on undocumented immigrants, Matt Foreman — the Director of Gay and Immigrant Rights Programs at the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund — said that undocumented immigrants face the constant threat of discovery by police and government employees; being fired or having their company legally penalized for not reporting them; facing indefinite imprisonment in abusive and trans-phobic immigrant detention facilities; being torn apart from their lifelong community of friends and chosen family and getting deported to a country that they no longer recognize.
 
The Dream Act would allow young undocumented Americans the chance to become citizens if they attend college (expensive) or join the military (which is potentially dangerous, especially if the country goes to war or if an undocumented recruit gets sexually assaulted). But it has not been passed.
 
It will not provide political asylum for LGBT immigrants fleeing persecution abroad, nor will it stop the foreign-born partner in a legally married same-sex couple from getting deported. Only a repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act could stop that. So moving forward, participants at the conference were told it's important to keep a few things in mind:
 
First, undocumented immigrants are people of every age, social class and nationality, not just Mexican laborers, like popular culture might have you believe.
 
Second — to dispel another stereotype — many undocumented immigrants would like to legally marry (and not just for a green card) and would also like to pay taxes to give back to American society.
 
Third, immigration reform often provides cover to racist ideologies, whether it's hardcore Republican laws like in Arizona and Alabama that seek to make life so unmanageable in America that undocumented immigrants decide to self-deport, or those who speak about offering immigrants "legalization" over full-fledged "citizenship" (ie. those who want the economic benefit of exploiting foreign workers on American shores without having to extend any benefits to them or allowing them to influence elections).
 
Lastly, the Catholic Church denies grants for any immigration organization that also stands up for LGBT rights. As such, LGBT people and undocumented immigrants have common foes, and are much more able to fight against prejudiced police departments, legislators and other government officers if they band together rather than fight separately.
 
To learn more about how immigration equality intersects with LGBT issues of all sorts, you can visit The National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the Audre Lourde Project, Unid@s, Southerners on New Ground and Queers for Economic Justice.
 

 
2) Why Reproductive Rights are LGBT Rights
 
While the Republican "War on Women" has done its best to make abortion as inaccessible and guilt-ridden as possible, the fight over reproductive rights involves every LGBT person too. Because when we talk about reproductive rights, that includes the policies governing sexual education in our schools, the availability of contraceptives and sexual health clinics in our neighborhoods and the laws which dictate family planning (whether that means planning not to have a child or planning to adopt one).
 
Conference participants were told it's important to keep abortion and contraception legal, especially for the 11% of lesbians who have reportedly been raped, bisexual men who inadvertently impregnate their female partners and for trans men who end up pregnant after having sex with gay and bisexual men.
 
But because of the federal Hyde Amendment, low-income queer women cannot use Medicaid to help pay for an abortion, meaning that many of them either resort to dangerous back alley abortions or forgo paying rent (or other financial necessities) just to afford the $600 procedure.
 
Inequalities in contraceptive medicine make it so that same-sex couples get charged more for in vitro fertilization than straight couples. Trans and intersex individuals regularly get refused sexual medical care by doctors who feel too ill informed to competently treat them. And hospitals and medical professionals can also refuse them care because of transphobic public accommodation laws.
 
Both of these things need changing.
 
Also, keep in mind that America's key anti-abortion foe — the Catholic Church — is also America's key anti-LGBT foe. And in both instances, it has been pushing the line that "religious exemptions" and "conscientious clauses" should allow religious employees and church-funded organizations to deny service to anyone seeking an abortion, recognition of their same-sex partner or adoption as an LGBT parent.
 
There are so many sociopolitical and cultural-economic factors at play in securing reproductive rights that it can be difficult to know where to start. Nevertheless, you can begin by looking up your state sex education and reproductive rights laws at Sex Etc., how to take action at the National Women's Law Center and then find out how some religious communities are helping in the fight at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
 
3) How To Get People Moving On Trans Rights
 
Homophobia and transphobia are both forms of sexism. Both stem from an outdated and repressive concept of how men and women are "supposed" to act. And both are hostile to any attempt to challenge or change gender norms whatsoever.
 
But the "trans agenda" seeks more than simply securing the same workplace protections and military service rights coveted by many LGB activists.
 
Rather, a broader view of trans equality seeks to demolish the roadblocks that prevent a person from getting their correct gender listed on government documents; the impediments that deny trans people the necessary hormones and treatment required for transitional health care; the rights to access hotels, hospitals and public accommodations just like everyone else; and an end to the inhumane practices that regularly sort trans prisoners into wrongly gendered detention facilities and then subject them to sexual and physical abuse. There must also be an end to the cycles of injustice that perpetuate sex work and HIV in the trans community.
 
Compared to the gay rights movement, the trans rights movement is several decades behind (or at least that's how one trans activist put it). But a broad coalition of trans allies and sympathetic supporters could change that.
 
Many would-be allies will first have to meet a trans person, question their own concept of gender, understand "Trans 101" — the basics on trans identity and etiquette when discussing trans issues — and then familiarize themselves with some of the many injustices and political challenges facing trans people today. Then it will take people to begin having discussions with trans and cisgender neighbors about the biggest issues the trans community faces. To be successful, the conversations must be "radically welcoming" to all races, genders and people of faith, and they must target potentially-sympathetic community leaders — such as church, political and business leaders — who might open their minds after hearing a trans person discuss their personal hardships firsthand.
 
But conference attendees are warned: any trans political campaign should also anticipate insidious attacks that characterize trans people as sexual predators, child molesters, prostitutes and "men in dresses" who can't wait to babysit and stalk your bathrooms. If voters have first had a chance to know trans people on a personal level — and to see them as active, positive members of their community — these vicious, commonplace attacks will falter.
 
4) Humanitarian Aid: The Future of Our Movement
 
I had a drunken chat with a celebrated LGBT activist during the conference. The activist basically went on a riff, which I've paraphrased below:
 
The American LGBT rights movement is eating itself. We're so hyper-focused on marriage, military rights and then the right to work that we forget about LGBT persecution around the world.
 
Just think for a second how often you see stuff about Glee and Lady Gaga and pictures of shirtless guys on gay websites, and then think about the frequency of international LGBT news on those same sites — it's lopsided beyond compare.
 
It's long been a criticism of gay culture that we're self-involved. True, maybe we're helping shift LGBT rights around the world by exporting our pop-cultural messages and by Hilary Clinton declaring that gay rights are human rights, but that's it — the average gay person isn't directly involved with helping out where our LGBT brothers and sisters are hurting the most.
 
But it's time for a change.
 
You probably know about Scott Lively, the hate group leader who is currently involved in a federal court case over his stirring antigay sentiment in Uganda. Why do you think he went to Uganda to start planting his seeds of antigay hate? Because he thought that no gay American would ever dare to go over there and fight against him; that no LGBT person would ever show the Ugandans that we care about their basic needs — the need for clean water, the need for agriculture, farming equipment and other humanitarian work.
 
So Lively goes over there as a missionary — as a church leader, the sort that has historically done humanitarian work, though at a high price — and he's been able to influence the culure and the politics with Uganda's odious "Kill the Gays" bill ever since.
 
The likes of Lively don't expect LGBT Americans to go over there and do humanitarian work too. Hell, according to Lively gay people are akin to Nazis. Whenever you tell an American queer that you want to go to Uganda, they'll look at you like you have a death wish. But when you tell fellow LGBT Ugandans that you'd like to invest your time and money, they welcome you with open arms.
 
We need to change the way we do things. The world is beginning to think that LGBT Americans only care about our piece of the pie, and it's eventually going to work against us.
 
The LGBT mobilization of international humanitarian aid on a global scale is really where the future of our movement is. And it's time to start doing that work now so that our missionaries can stop haters from cornering the market on "moral authority" abroad.
 
It's just an opinion, but one well worth considering… preferably while sober.
5) Eight Gender-bending Children's Books for People of all Ages
 
Atlanta's independent feminist bookstore, Charis Books and more, had a nifty table set up with slews of LGBT titles including a handful of children's books, including Perez Hilton's The Boy With Pink Hair and The Boy Who Cried Fabulous.
 
You've probably heard of the author of The Boy Who Cried Fabulous — it's Lesléa Newman, the woman who also wrote "the first lesbian-themed children's book ever published," Heather Has Two Mommies.
 
She gave a talk during the conference entitled, "The Gender Dance: Smashing Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Literature," in which she recounted a handful of books that challenge traditional gender roles.
 
Here's her top eight below:
 
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936) - While some have derided this pre-Spanish Civil War book as an endorsement of pacifism, the story of a bull who prefers flowers to fighting still manages to charm with its illustrations and message. And did we mention that it was also turned into an Academy Award winning Disney cartoon?
 
The Story of X by Lois Gould (1972) - Originally published in Ms. Magazine, Gould's tale shows just how bent out of shape most adults get when one couple decides to raise their child as a genderless "X." While the repeated reference to "X" as an "it" begins to grate, it still makes a delightful satire.
 
William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow (1972) - Although heteronormative stereotypes justify the end of this book, young William's desire to care for a doll will resonate with any readers who ever longed to play with "opposite-gendered" toys like, for instance, an Easy Bake Oven.
 
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (1997) - Basically, imagine what would happen if you turned Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and the Grimm brothers fairy tale The Frog Prince into a Sesame Street sketch with a wickedly wonderful twist ending. You'll love watching Princess Smartypants outwit her ridiculously named male suitors — like Prince Swimbladder — in pursuit of a single life, happily ever after.
 
Pugdog by Andrea U'Ren (2001) - When the owner of an adorable puppy realizes that his "good boy" is actually a girl, he subjects the rough-and-tumble pup to a miserable regimen of grooming and acting "like a lady." Luckily, Pugdog ends up teaching her owner a thing or two about silly gender stereotypes and what makes her so special. 
 
King and King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland (2002) - This picture book, which originated in the Netherlands, became the bane of marriage equality advocates when a schoolgirl in a "Yes on 8" ad came home clutching the book and told her mom that she was going to marry a princess. But it's still a lovely book where even the prince's rejected female suitors still snag an invite to the wedding.
 
A Fire Engine for Ruthie by Lesléa Newman (2004) - Written as a direct response to Charlotte Zolotow's book William's Doll, Newman's book features Ruthie, a young girl who would rather play with trains and automobiles than dress up and have a tea party with her grandma. Luckily, grandma eventually lets her hair down and accepts that playtime is for everyone, no matter your gender.
 
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert (2008) - Perhaps the most surprising of the lot, 10,000 Dresses follows Bailey, a young girl who wants to wear the  wondrous dresses she sees in her dreams. The only problem —  her family can't understand why a boy would possibly want a dress. Ewert's book has a great ending that is both encouraging and yet realistic.