By Nat Reveil (Beyond the Bars Fellow, CU School of Social Work)
The past two years have been challenging for people with marginalized identities in the US. As a Black, queer, gender nonconforming immigrant, I am constantly prompted to consider how do we as LGBTQ people—especially people of color with intersecting identities—continue to breathe and survive as we are subjected to daily assaults on black and brown bodies? Moreover, where do we find and build community, a shared purpose, and spaces to heal individually and collectively, especially in the face of pervasive phobias and prejudices while striving to create meaningful change?
This past January, I was fortunate to find such a space while attending my first Creating Change conference in Detroit, Michigan. While I have attended other LGBTQ and diversity-focused conferences in the past, I cannot express how unprecedented and inspiring Creating Change was to me. Sponsored by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force for the past 31 years, Creating Change ranks as the largest conference gathering of LGBTQ people and allies from across the country. Despite the frigid winter, a radiant sea of almost 4,000 diverse individuals, including subcultures, lifestyles, gender expressions, creeds, languages, ages, races, genders, abilities (and much more) all came together to learn, empower, and strategize about queer and trans equality and liberation.
In three short days I was stretched and pushed in ways that I didn’t think were possible. The opportunity to share space with so many talented and creative folx, all bringing their diverse expertise to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people, was electric and contagious. I was struck by the caucuses, hospitality suites, self-care rooms, film screenings, worshipful gatherings, receptions and social events. Beyond that, there were great spaces for people to genuinely engage and learn from one another. I was inspired and overwhelmed by the creative and interactive dialogues around the hundreds of workshops as well as day-long institutes that ranged in topics from racial justice to civil engagement, leadership development and allyship.
Studying Religion and Women and Gender Studies at Columbia, I was particularly fascinated by the conversations around queer spirituality, spiritual violence, and ways to incorporate queer people and spiritual justice in interfaith circles. For instance, a few months ago I helped start a queer group at the church I attend. From attending Creating Change, I gained a nuanced understanding of navigating faith and LGBTQ issues and the importance of radical intersectionality in justice work. Moreover, I came back to New York with valuable skills to use in my everyday survival and effective language to expand and make faith-based spaces, like my church, more accepting of LGBTQ people.
Overall, it was a delight to witness the changing nature of activism and the ways in which the LGBTQ community strives to make space for the most vulnerable among us. Recognizing that the LGBTQ community (just like any other community) isn’t perfect, I am hopeful and feel empowered to persist in the work that needs to be done to positively advance LGBTQ rights in the various communities I ascribe to.
Special thanks to the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) for contributing to this experience. My heart is full!
Support to offset some of Nat’s travel costs to Creating Change was provided by an IRWGS Travel Grant funded through donor contributions. If you are interested in supporting opportunities for student travel to conferences such as this, or other student initiatives, we encourage you to consider making a contribution to IRWGS, or emailing Ryan Grubbs, IRWGS Associate Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss available support options.