The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: My Top 10 Reflections from Creating Change Conference

The past few days I have had the privilege of attending and presenting at the Creating Change Conference in Minneapolis.  This is an annual organizing and training event put on by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

I was there at the invitation of Rev. Janet Edwards [website | twitter] and with the help of the Fenton Group, to be part of a panel about faith and social media. What a great honor it was to talk about how social media can inspire and coalesce movements of justice.  My co-panelists were Justin Lee from the Gay Christian Network,  Allison Palmer from GLAAD and Alex McNeill from Religion Dispatches. Good folks all.

In many ways this conference was not much different than others that I have attended in terms of schedules and personalities.  There were the folks who never saw a button that they didn't wear, there were those for whom the leadership could probably do nothing right and, yes, the conference groupies were a plenty.  Really quite sweet and like many events where people with shared experiences and passions gather, it was like a big ol' family reunion.

But . . . despite the the fact that this was like many other conferences, it was different. Here are 10 ways in which this was a unique event and/or particularly interesting to this first-timer.  In no particular order . . .

Being an "Ally" is an awkward luxury:  I'm going to write on the whole "ally" identity in my next post, but it was good for me to be at an event where I was in the sexual orientation "minority." While I fit the general understanding of what an "ally" is, I have never self-identified myself as such so it was odd to be introduced that way on more than one occasion. Hoping to honor the space into which I was invited, during most gatherings I simply tried to listen and, for the most part, succeeded with a self assigned "do no harm" score of 8 out of 10 ;-) Again, next post will be dedicated to this. Here is a teaser tweet.

Queer Asians are stepping up and out:   I attended a workshop on the current status of queer Asian organizing that was sponsored by The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA and pronounced en-kap-ee-uh) and titled, "We're here! We're queer! We eat paneer!" In addition to some fascinating statistics about this history of queer Asian organizations, we heard from Hot Pot in Philadelphia,API Equality LA and American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropty (AAPIP). The stories of my Asian American brothers and sisters who are navigating the nuances of culture amidst the journey around sexuality was inspiring and powerful.

Stories are powerful:  As with most gatherings of people, especially those who are politically/socially marginalized, the stories of heartache as well as celebration were profound. I was particularly moved by the interfaith gathering that about 50 people attended at the end of the event.  I want to thank everyone who shared such personal and often painful parts of their lives in such a public setting. Amazing courage indeed.

Setting a tone of humility:  One of the first things that happened at the opening plenary was that some of the Asian American participants were given the platform to express their disappointment that Creating Change was taking place over Lunar New Year.  The date caused many - including myself - to chose in their words, "between organizing and being with my family" and that this was a choice that people should not have to make.  This was done with care and passion reminding the conference that even groups with the best of intentions, must always be diligent in being aware of who is left out.  I was so impressed with the planning team to allow the opening night to be set with a posture of humility and willingness to be challenged. Well done.

Language was salty, sexual and super-funny:  Now I will be careful here not to build on any stereotypes or overstep my "ally" bounds, but one observation that I did make was that in all of the five of the workshops that I attended, there was some kind of swearing and/or sexual reference in each one.  I think much has to do with the comfort level and sense that people are in a safe and familiar space so are speaking with "family." As person-of-color who articulates life differently in a room full of Asians, I totally get that and it was a honor to be part of the conversations and privy to many jokes that I didn't even get. Definitely an edge for me, but never a deterrent.

God was in the house:  Through the "Practice Spirit, Do Justice" track the visibility of religious and spiritual traditions was quite high.  From the Two Spirit First Nations Collective starting gatherings off with a "prayer" to the first plenary featuring four religious leaders reflecting on the LGBTQ movement's relationship to faith, there was an awful lot of religion all up in this event. While there was certainly some push-back on this by many who feel as if religions is the root cause of the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ folks, it felt genuine to those who live in both worlds.

Creating Change needs more options . . . not:  For those that were there, good gravy there were a lot of workshops and other activities to take one's time.  While it did feel pretty overwhelming given the multiple ways one could choose offerings, it did provide a great opportunity to present a huge breadth of topics and networking opportunities. I attended worships on LGBTQ Muslims, racial and LGBTQ justice, congregational organizing, Queer Asian movements and social media.  Not sure they could ever scale back at this point, so if you ever attend, you have been warned, save some time for mapping your time.

Everyone needs entrance music:   Took me a while to figure it out, but there was a DJ at all the plenaries working the crowd and playing entrance music for everyone.  Pretty fun.  Now I always have a soundtrack playing in my head as I live my life, but hmmm . . . I wonder what my entrance music would be . . . I'm thinking I'll go with Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity."

Award winners:  I got pretty teary during the final plenary when Kylar W. Broadus was presented "The Susan J. Hyde Activism Award for Longevity in the Movement" for his work around transgender and racial justice.  The crowd held his decades of work before him with such deep gratitude.  Amazing.  Then 17-year-old Allyssa Veil was presented the Paul A. Anderson Award for Youth Leadership for her work with young people in her school and community.  The pairing of these two awards was pretty cool, giving visible examples of gratitude for what has been and hope for what will come.   A special shout out to the crew from Syracuse University who let me crash their brunch table!

People are doing amazing work:  In addition to all the links above, here are just a few of the groups that caught my eye, my ear and my heart.  You should probably follow The Task Force via their blog as well as on twitter.  For a cool art project check out Jeff Sheng's photography exhibition, "Fearless" which captures the lives of openly LGBT high school and college athletes. For entertainment purposes, comic and emcee Kate Clinton is worth a follow as is the hip-hop duo, God-des and She. And the community that I learned a great deal about, LGBTIQQ Muslims, can find support via Al-Fatiha. And lastly follow Zack Ford on Twitter  and his blog as I suspect he'll have some good reflections on the event.  You should also look back on and follow the twitter conversations via #cc11.

So that's it, if you have other bloggers, twitterers and/or links from Creating Change that you think would be good to include, please feel free to leave a comment. 

[Taken with permission from the blog of the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow . Originally posted Feb. 7, 2011. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow.]