Monday, February 6, 2012

Hi! & Creating Change Conference

Hey folks! Since this is my first post on here, I guess I'll briefly introduce myself. My name's Ash, I'm a third-year psychology major, and I basically exist to serve the queer community (and intersecting marginalized communities as well). If you want to find me in person, check the GSC. I live there.

A week ago I went to the Creating Change conference in Baltimore for the first time ever. It's the largest LGBTQ advocacy conference in the world, and since "gay for pay" is my current career path, it seemed pertinent that I go. I feel the need to write about it because 1) I learned a ton of information not easily acquired in Austin and 2) the culture within the conference is incredibly different than what I've found in the queer community here.

The first thing that really stood out to me was the amazing change in culture brought on by the 3,000 attendees. I guess I expected it to be similar to what I find in the GSC or at pride parades, and it seriously wasn't. Everyone talked in the elevators- I had to introduce myself every single time I rode with new people. I was barely given the chance to stand alone for more than a few seconds before someone would come up, introduce themselves, and introduce me to their friends and acquaintances. EVERYONE asked me what pronouns I use. Stories and advice were passed around like candy. If someone made a mistake that triggered someone, they immediately owned it and worked with them to make it better. It felt really close to perfect for me. I'm not saying this never happens in Austin- I hear plenty of great stories in the GSC, I've seen people own their mistakes before, and sometimes people ask about pronouns. I'd just never experienced it on this level before, and I found myself wishing these norms were more common outside of the conference. I think it's probably on me to bring some of that change about though, eh?

Then the sheer amount of information I gained from all the workshops and networking was amazing. I took a ton of notes and really tried to compartmentalize everything, and honestly I'm still processing everything a week later.

Day 1 was 6 hours of racial justice training. Doing anything for 6 hours is intense, and then add in a sensitive, important topic like race and you can imagine what that was like. It was amazingly useful in helping me figure out more ways to be racially inclusive in my student orgs without tokenizing people; it's a very thin line that's easy to cross.

Day 2 was 6 hours of college-level organizing. Though this mostly resulted in networking, I gained a pretty awesome conflict mediation model, and I got called up to teach all 80 attendees about the model my org is using to implement gender inclusive housing here. The facilitator said it was the best model he's ever heard, so that was a proud moment. UT's on the map, y'all.

The next 2 days consisted of smaller 1.5-hour workshops. The best one I went to was on LGBT homeless youth and the sex trade. I guess a basic summary of it would be that the sex trade is a vital part of survival for these youth, and that there are a ton of discriminatory and ridiculous laws all over the U.S. that limit this trade and therefore impact survival. Broken Window Theory, condom-count laws, and immigration laws all contribute to this issue in various ways; putting arrested youth through a family court is not better than putting them through a criminal court; and we should be educating and advocating, not prosecuting. The facilitator of the workshop is one of the authors of 'Queer (In)Justice', and it's worth reading if this topic interests you.

Honestly, it's not possible for me to fit everything I learned and everything that happened into one blog post. I can't even begin to describe some of the deeply personal changes that took place for me at this conference. What I will say is that there is something at this conference for everyone, and that there's a lot our community here could take back from it. If you can find a way to attend it, do it. It's changed me for the better.

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