The Creating Change Conference, billed as the “nation’s pre-eminent political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBT social justice movement,” comes to Atlanta in January to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The massive event is sponsored by the National Lesbian & Gay Task Force.
Michael Shutt, a member of the host committee and the director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life at Emory University, said now is the time for Creating Change to come to the Southeast.
“The conference has not been in Atlanta since 2000 and so much has changed in the city and the region. This is an opportunity to bring many communities together to learn, engage in skills building, and network,” he said.
“I also believe we need the conference in the Southeast. There is a lot of conversation of progress around the country in terms of LGBT access, inclusion and equity, but very little is focused on the Southeast. We know that a lot of working is happening here and we are ready for an infusion of queer energy.”
Shutt said organizers expect a record-setting attendance of more than 3,100. People will come from every state in the U.S. as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. There will also be a contingent of 20 activists from China attending and individuals from Europe and Africa coming to Atlanta for Creating Change, he said.
Shutt, who worked in 2004 to fight Georgia’s constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, pointed out that the Task Force also worked with local activists to try to defeat the measure, which passed with 76 percent of the vote.
But there is still plenty to be proud of for LGBT activists in the Peach State.
“I want to showcase how the Southeast, Georgia and Atlanta are leaders in community organizing and change. The Southeast is often written off for many different reasons, but those of us who organize here know that positive change and liberation within the LGBT community in the United States will only happen if it happens here,” Shutt said.
Shutt, who has attended Creating Change almost since its inception, also sees the conference as a “family reunion.”
“My professional organization, the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, was founded at Creating Change 15 years ago,” he said. “Creating Change enables me to learn from others in and out of higher education. Creating Change is also an opportunity for my students to learn about their own identities while growing as leaders. The conference is a very liberating experience for them.”
The conference includes hundreds of workshops and sessions as well as day-long institutes that range in topics from racial justice to advancing transgender rights to LGBT elders and aging issues in the LGBT movement.
Plenary speakers this year include political humorist Kate Clinton; Deepak Bhargava, the executive director of the Center for Community Change based in Washington, D.C.; Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; and Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of Define America and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote the essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” in June 2011 for the New York Times Magazine.
Frenchie Davis from “American Idol” and “The Voice” will provide closing entertainment on Jan. 27.
Other members of Atlanta’s Host Committee are Everette R.H. Thompson, the former regional director of Amnesty International USA’s Southern Regional Office; Rev. Gwen Thomas of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and a licensed minister at Victory for the World United Church of Christ in Stone Mountain, Ga.; and Jesse Morgan, a student at Georgia State University and organizer of MondoHomo, a radical queer arts and music festival held each year in Atlanta.
Top photo: (left to right) Everette R.H. Thompson, Jesse Morgan, Michael Shutt and Rev. Gwen Thomas (courtesy National Gay and Lesbian Task Force)