The following is National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Sue Hyde’s response to rejected Lesbian workshops and complete lack of Lesbian-specific programming at NGLTF’s Creating Change conference.
This response was NOT freely offered but was prompted by the following inquiry sent by Lesbian Caucus facilitator Shannon Avery:
I’m writing to you on behalf of the Lesbian Caucus, which was created at the 2012 Creating Change Conference in Baltimore. As you are aware, there was some dismay expressed by lesbians who felt disregarded by the conference agenda and the lack of lesbian-oriented programming. In response to that problem, Creating Change made room for the meeting of a Lesbian Caucus on Saturday, January 28, 2012. The Lesbian Caucus meeting was attended by approximately 85 individuals, many of whom expressed the following concerns:
*a desire to discuss “sex vs. gender” and how to navigate that space in a manner respectful of all members of the GLBT Community – including Lesbians, *the need for concrete, practical guidance with regard to legal, health/medical and insurance issues as Lesbians age, *the need for an experiential, intergenerational dialogue among Lesbians of all ages (several young women poignantly expressed disappointment at the lack of images or role models, specifically for lesbians), *Lesbian invisibility, and *Lesbian-safe space away from Male-dominated space, (One commenter noted that the welcome conference bag provided by NGLTF included a condom and lube, but nothing for Females. Other participants noted that the conference’s “gender neutral bathrooms” forced Lesbians to relieve themselves in space with Males – not trans women, mind you, but nontrans Gay Males.), *the need for a communication platform for lesbians to network and communicate.
As a result of this discussion, the Caucus asked NGLTF to, among other things: *include programming at Creating Change that addresses lesbian needs in the areas of health, family, legal and insurance problems, military issues unique to women, and discrimination, *create images of women created by women, *address oppression of Females in the GLBT Movement, *create Lesbians-safe space, including the establishment of a Lesbian Suite at Creating Change, *establish the Women’s/Lesbian/Women Same-Gender Loving Caucus as a permanent caucus, *respect that the word “Queer” does not always include Females and use language inclusive of Females, *extend scholarships to Women living in poverty so they can attend Creating Change, including scholarships for travel and accommodations.
Since the Lesbian Caucus was held January 28, some exciting things have happened – Lesbians have continued the conversation, both in our communities and on the Internet. We established an email list, a Facebook group (now with more than 600 members!), and a blog to allow us space to speak to one another and to find ways to rebuild our community. One of the themes that has resonated among this vast and diverse group of women is the feeling of alienation from mainstream LGBT organizations. We believe this feeling of alienation is rooted concretely in the exclusion and marginalization of lesbians and lesbian-specific concerns. We as Lesbians feel a renewed sense of purpose and community. It is our hope that the Lesbian Caucus, convened in Baltimore, represents a new beginning to increase Lesbian visibility and to ensure that Sisters are not left behind in this struggle for Equality.
I see that you are a member of the Lesbian Caucus (Facebook group) and that you have access to the documents attached to that group. Those documents contain a more detailed history and statement of concerns than what I have included in this letter. I hope that you have taken the time to read them and consider them as you begin preparations for the next conference in Atlanta. I hope to hear back from you regarding what efforts you are making to (1) address the concerns of the Lesbian Caucus, (2) include feminist lesbians in the planning process, and (3) include workshops and programs that are so vital to lesbians who attend the Creating Change conference.
Apparently the answers to those three bolded questions are 1. Ignore the concerns of the Lesbian Caucus. 2. NOT include feminist lesbians in the planning process and 3. Continue to reject lesbian workshops.
But you can draw your own conclusions from her response below:
Thank you for your note below and thanks to the sisters on this thread.
At the Task Force, we were happy to include the Lesbian Caucus as a late addition to the programming at Creating Change 2012. I think the attendance number itself speaks to the interest in having more discussions and sessions at Creating Change 2013 in Atlanta that directly address the concerns of lesbians in the LGBT political movement. So, congratulations to all of you for a very successful Lesbian Caucus.
Regarding the programming of the Creating Change Conference, about 65% of our programming content (workshop sessions, trainings, caucus sessions) is derived from session proposals submitted by interested people. While it is not difficult to submit a proposal, the process itself is competitive in the sense that we receive about 350 proposals and typically schedule about half of those received. The session RFP will go live on the Creating Change Conference web site in mid-summer; the deadline for submissions is Sept. 30, 2012. In addition to posting at the Creating Change web site, we will also be sending it out to all CC12, CC11 and CC10 attendees for whom we have email addresses. I look forward to receiving more proposals of interest to lesbians. The Lesbian Caucus will be a part of Creating Change if it is submitted as a proposed session. We do not independently schedule caucuses or sessions for which we don’t have a proposal, since each session needs facilitators and/or presenters.
The Creating Change Conference is titled The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. With use of the phrase “LGBT,” we explicitly include lesbians in the name and the vision of the conference. The Task Force does not typically use the word “queer” in reference to the organization’s programmatic work, but we have done so in specific circumstances. For example, the Task Force has launched a campaign to include questions about LGBT people in future Census questionnaires. That campaign is titled Queer the Census, the goal of which is to “count LGBT people in Census questions.” Use of the word “queer” in this instance was to deploy it as a verb, not a noun.
While we do offer scholarships to attendees, the scholarship programs are limited to registration fees and do not include travel or accommodations. I do not anticipate expanding our scholarship programs to include travel and accommodations. Registration scholarships are available to interested persons who submit a brief statement of application. The registration scholarships offer two levels of registration fees: a $25 registration and a $100 registration. As well, we offer a limited income registration of $150. Our online registration operation will launch in September, 2012.
Since 2000, we have re-flagged restrooms at the conference site as “Gender Neutral.” This is suitable and comfortable for many of our attendees. There is always a set of restrooms that remain gender specific during the conference for anyone who prefers that. In Baltimore, the gender specific restrooms were located adjacent to the Lobby Bar in the lobby area of the Hilton Baltimore.
The hospitality suites were launched in 1997 at the Creating Change Conference held in San Diego. We specifically launched the suites to address an ongoing issue faced by young people attending the conference: many young people cannot afford the food/beverage costs associated with attending a hotel-based event. Since 1997, we have added other suites, primarily for the same reason: to offer a no-cost food/beverage option to people who might otherwise be unable to attend Creating Change. Certainly, the hospitality suites serve other functions, including community building, but from our perspective, the suites create a conference that is more accessible. For Creating Change 2013, we have signed a contract that gives us use of hospitality spaces for youth, elders, people of color, disabled people, transgender people and bisexual people. In future years, it may be possible to secure an additional hospitality space that could be dedicated to lesbians attending Creating Change, but for Creating Change 2013, the hospitality spaces available are already committed.
You also note below “images of women created by women.” With respect to the 2012 Creating Change Conference recently held in Baltimore, our photographers were lesbians. They took many photos of women some of which are posted at the Creating Change Facebook page. We honored legendary lesbian photographer Joan E. Biren with an award this year; some of her pictures accompanied her award presentation and acceptance remarks. We honored Kathy Greenlee, the lesbian Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mira Patel, on the staff of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, is an out lesbian who spoke on the International LGBT Issues and Organizing panel on Saturday. Our executive director, Rea Carey, a lesbian, delivered the annual State of the Movement address. The Emcee for our plenary sessions was Kate Clinton, a lesbian. Scores and scores of lesbians presented at sessions throughout the program. While I understand there is dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the content of the conference program, I want to point out the highly visible lesbians on the program because I think each of these women creates images of women, both of themselves and more generally of women in our political movement.
You also note below “oppression of Females in the GLBT movement.” There is sexism in the LGBT movement, just as there is every other kind of ism in the LGBT movement. An important purpose of the Creating Change Conference is to bring together a diverse and varied group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people so that we can learn to work together better and more authentically as who we are and what our lives represent. I and other staffers at the Task Force strive to make Creating Change a place and a space where our voices, visions and energies will be valued and respected and where we join together to build a stronger movement for freedom and equality for all.
Thank you again for sharing the outcomes of the Lesbian Caucus with me!