As I sit on a plane leaving St. Louis and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s November “Creating Change 2004” conference behind, I am feeling a little overwhelmed.
For the last two and a half days I, along with about 2,000 other queer activists, have been taking workshops on topics such as “Building an Anti-Racist LGBT Movement” and “Securing Foundation Funding for your LGBT Organization” and listening to compelling speeches from movement pioneers including Amber Hollibaugh, former Director of Education, Advocacy and Community Building of Seniors in a Gay Environment, who spoke eloquently on ageism in the queer movement, and Matt Foreman, head of the Task Force, who gave a speech evidencing both his anger and his commitment.
It’s a lot to take in. We have so much healing to accomplish and so much work to do. Where to start?
First, it is clear to me that we are a group full of pain and hurt. You could see it on people’s faces and hear it in their voices. People had tried to so hard to get a just result from the past election and there was a sense of failure that acted as a backdrop to the conference.
Yes, 11 states passed ballot initiatives that amend state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage and, in some cases, call into question the legality of any form of non-marriage partnership.
Yes, we had re-elected a president who had spent almost a year actively demeaning us and maligning our movement.
So our first job is to heal.
Despite the presence of pain, though, I felt a strong sense of re-commitment and re-dedication to the principles of the movement and the importance of the work involved. Moreover, a good deal of conference time was spent talking about the implications of the fact that our movement is part of a larger progressive movement seeking social and economic justice for women, people of color, immigrants, disabled persons and the economically disenfranchised.
Perhaps as never before, we talked about coalition-building efforts and reaching out to capture the energy and best practices of groups allied in our struggle for justice and the equal rights we deserve. That is where our work begins.
On a personal note, I am made more aware of my own responsibility to use the privilege that I have in life in a respectful and responsible way to benefit the vast majority of us who do not share these fruits. There are gay youth, women of African-American descent, transsexuals, gay elders, rural queers and countless others whose lives are radically different from those of us who have the privilege of leadership, race, money and access. They need our help—badly. They need our commitment to listen to them, understand their concerns and then step up to the plate and say, in the words of Albert Finney in the movie “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”
If those of us who are leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement can shout that phrase loud enough and enlist the support of the thousands of others of us who share our concerns, then we have a chance of turning the defeat of this past month to an era of unprecedented progress for our people.
Robert Kuhn consults with non-profit and other organizations in the LGBT and AIDS communities through his firm Kuhn Associates. He can be reached at [email protected].