Creating Change 2011 and its spirituality subconference created a space that was not inclusive of atheists and nonbelievers. This post includes examples of some of the marginalizing language, reflections from the atheist caucus, and suggestions for creating a more inclusive conference in the future.
Peter LaBarbera and his org, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, are trying to smear the Creating Change conference with some of the scary things they saw there. Let’s shine a little light on their absurd fear-mongering.
Freshly back from Creating Change and AWP, Zack and Peterson are energized to be advocates and writers. This week’s episode focuses on a roundup of news related to the transgender community, including unfunny sketches on Craig Ferguson and SNL, hate crimes, and a big new study that reveals “Injustice at Every Turn” for the trans […]
After spending a full day discussing and exploring sexual liberation at Creating Change, I reflect on some of my own personal growth and the amazing conversations about sex and desire that are possible when we allow ourselves to go there.
Well, despite all the crazy weather happening across the U.S., I got to Minneapolis without any complications. I’m very excited to be here for Creating Change, the National Conference on LGBT Equality. While my experience at CC over the next few days will give me plenty of food for thought, it will keep me from […]
Alright, so we admit we have an agenda, but what is it? Lots of people, like straight pastors and well-funded Glb(t) political operatives, think they know. Zack and Peterson try to suss out who sets the agenda and what it happens to be today. What are the bars by which we measure the success of […]
Like the whole GOProud at CPAC thing. The LGBT movement really isn’t too keen on GOProud, gay as they may be. (Here are my reasons.) And the arch-conservatives and tea partiers at CPAC don’t want ANYTHING remotely pro-LGBT at their event. And so, for me personally at least, even though I don’t have much respect for GOProud’s platform, I find myself cheering on the trouble they’re causing in conservative circles. I don’t have to respect GOProud to appreciate differences they might make by subverting the way conservatives dismiss all LGBT issues.
But over the past week, I’ve had my own topsy-turvy experience. I’ve been having a civil and even respectful dialogue (if you ignore the occasional mocking quotes) with Peter LaBarbera on Twitter.
Readers know I use this blog to challenge religious right rhetoric, and I won’t pretend that I didn’t start engaging with Peter LaBarbera with the same motive. But, I’m going to give him a little credit: it’s actually been a constructive and meaningful exchange, as much as one between the two of us possibly could be. I mean, it’s no secret to him that I’m an openly gay atheist, and it’s no secret to me that he orchestrates Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, which promotes a lot of dangerous untruths about LGBT identities.
In fact, Peter LaBarbera has pretty well earned himself the ire of the LGBT community. (I’m still working on a similar reputation among conservatives.) He says a lot of things that are incredibly offensive to us (he tweeted today using the hashtag #trannycare—oy). Over at Pam’s House Blend, he is regularly referred to as “Porno Pete” for the way he always looks for ways to use queer sexuality as a weapon against our community. But in the scheme of things, it works for him, regardless of how much we make fun of him for it. As I just wrote, sexual liberation really freaks out our opponents, and whether or not he has a different motive for pursuing queer sexuality is really just a cheap joke on our parts.
And yet, I’ve found that he can actually engage in civil discourse, a quality that doesn’t apply to many of his anti-LGBT peers. We’ve actually found things we can agree on and jokes we can both laugh at (including GOProud’s Chris Barron’s regular Twitter updates about his workout routines). Today, Peter actually did me a favor. He noticed that I was debating “NGblog” about the merits of Creating Change and pointed out that it’s Nelson Garcia, a fake gay activist with a history of boyloving and pedophilia charges. In fact, Peter went out of his way to call out Garcia’s past on the #cc11 hashtag for all to see. He didn’t have to do that.
None of this changes the fact that Peter LaBarbera and I fundamentally disagree on a lot. I’m eagerly waiting to see what his AFTAH undercover reporters “uncovered” at Creating Change. (Unlike AFTAH’s conference this summer, Creating Change doesn’t limit who can attend, so I don’t know why they had to go undercover to begin with.) [Upon reading this post, Peter informed me he has been escorted out before. I personally expect that protecting the experience of attendees who support LGBT equality is paramount, though I wonder if perhaps a silent observer might be tolerated. There is certainly nothing to hide at CC.] But despite the way that he can trigger me, I feel like there is something profoundly meaningful about the kind of dialogue we’ve managed to have on Twitter.
I actually asked his permission to preserve our exchange here on the blog, and it seems we’re both interested in continuing the exchange. Below is most of it so far up until today, but it’s still very much underway. I want you all to take a deep breath as you read it because there are certainly a lot of reasons to be frustrated by it, but I am committed to continuing to keep it constructive. I ask that no one disrupt that by resorting to name-calling or mocking (here or on Twitter), as hurt as any of us might be by things he says. Just lift your fingers off the keyboard and let the dialogue continue.
Twitter exchanges are tough to follow, but here is how our conversation has panned out so far. There have been a couple of previous short exchanges between us that I’ve omitted, and there are some loose threads included below as well, but here’s how things have proceeded. (Note: I’ve combined consecutive tweets and sorted some out for ease of reading. Twitter actually does not make this very easy to do!)
February 1, 2011
ZF: If you say gay people should be executed and then gays are executed, how is that not a connection?
PL: sorry lying dude but youve confused Christians (+ me) w/ rad Muslims who say we should push homols off tall bldgs #lgbtliars #tcot
ZF: So it’s more compassionate to just put them in jail for life? You’re the good guys because at least you don’t want death?
PL: On radio Gary Glenn listed #christian victims of #lgbt laws: what kind of “civil rights” mvt TAKES AWAY others’ rel + 1st Am rights? #tcot
ZF: Help me understand, dude. What 1st amendment rights do #LGBT laws strip you of?
PL: #LGBT Freedom of association, for starters. Freedom to live out ur rel/moral creed – the Boy Scouts of America almost lost theirs
ZF: Help me understand. I don’t recall any clauses in the laws that prohibit free association. Is discriminating a freedom?
PL: One man’s “discrimination” is another man’s fidelity to his conscience + moral/rel. code. That’s the essence of this battle. #tcot
ZF: I recognize the right of your conscience, but how does that amount to a right to exclude others’ same freedom of conscience?
PL: + btw, Zack, until you apologize for lying that I called for the “execution of gays,” there will be no exchange b/t us. #tcot
ZF: So, @PeterLaBarbera answer me concisely “No” and I will apologize: Do you support the execution, incarceration, or persecution of LGBTs? Honestly, I would love to be able to apologize for that being a mistake. Would love to call you an ally for human rights!
February 2, 2011
ZF: Peter, I’m hoping you can still answer my question so I can offer you the apology you seek.
February 6, 2011
ZF: BTW, I’m still hoping to apologize. Just answer “No”: Do you support the execution, incarceration, or persecution of LGBTs?
PL: Love how u expanded ur ? after ur erroneous claim that I supp the “execution” of #lgbt ppl. We wuld differ on def of “persecution” … Eg, would u consider denial of SSM or laws ag homo’l adoption “persecution”?
ZF: Well, supporting persecution is an invitation for violence. I’d love to hear what kinds of persecution you don’t support. What is your rationale for denying marriage or adoption to same-sex couples?
PL: see what I mean. We cant agree on terms. I bet u also see laws restricting #abortion as “persecution” of women. Hope I’m wrong…
ZF: The only different term I used was “same-sex couple,” which is accurate: not all people in such couples are homosexuals. I would be happy to engage in a debate on abortion at a different time. May we stick to the topic at hand?
PL: don’t twist my words, Zack. I’m not one of ur students. LOL. Denial of SSM is not persec. We have no agreement on terms.
ZF: I didn’t say it was. I asked your rationale so I could offer my perspective in response. I’m trying for legit dialogue here.
February 7, 2011
ZF: If you say, for example, that SSC’s are less effective at raising a child, that’s not factually true, so I’d call that pers. Also, if you say that two people WANTING to commit to marriage somehow hurts marriage, that’s also a demonizing smear.
PL: Ex of “persecution”: govt forcing private bus. owners to subsidize employee “dom partnrships” desp their bel tht homo’y is sinful
ZF: So what I’m understanding is that a religious belief in sin takes precedent over a gov’t definition of discrimination? So, it’s persecution to force someone to be INCLUSIVE, but it’s not persecution to enable someone to be EXCLUSIVE.
PL: my pt is 1 mans “rights” is another man’s “persecution.” U obv’sly define “persecution” acc to ur ideology. Dont assume its true
ZF: Well, my concern is that the 1st Amd says NOT to use laws to protect religion, while the 14th says equal rights for all… But what I hear is that you feel that preserving the religious belief is more important than protecting all people… If you’re not allowed to discriminate based on belief, is that really an infringement of the right to that belief?
PL: First Freedom, Zack. Our nation was founded by ppl fleeing rel persecution. Thank God we have a 1st Amendment. #tcot #christian
ZF: a 1st amendment that ensures our lawmakers cater to all citizens, NOT specific religious beliefs. #tcot #atheist
PL: Youre talking about Govt coming in and forcing citizens to comply w/ ideas that are alien to US’s Jud-Chn heritage, wch = tyranny
ZF: haha, Jud-Chn heritage isn’t part of our Constitution. Equality for all and freedom FROM religion is our heritage!
PL: ur distorting history thru ur atheist glasses. The irony is atheist or ANTI-Ch’n regimes are the most oppressive + murderous #tcot
ZF: No, now you’re just attacking me for being an atheist. Read the Treaty of Tripoli, my friend! Christian-free US govt!
PL: Freedom FROM religion? They sure did a bad job w/ all those g’t prayer proclamations, mentions of God, Moses on Sup Ct walls etc!
ZF: Haha, agreed! If only we just didn’t use fear of communists to enshrine religion in our culture like we did in the 50s!
PL: # 1: Communism should b feared + stalwartly fought b/c its a murderous, anti-liberty system (Stalin, Mao, etc) # 2 follows. #tcot
ZF: Given that atheism in 2011 has NOTHING to do with Communism, I agree entirely with point #1!
PL: # 2: our Christ’y-infused + -informed govt system is our roots + is not a result of 1950s “fear of Communism” #tcot #reagan #gop
ZF: That’s a fair point too. Though it was certainly cemented then. Christianity does not inform our gov’t structure though. Christian principles have often overlapped, but our founding document prohibits infusing them into gov’t. Do you agree?
PL: Founders were more concerned w/ pot. abuses of a State Church – which is in a way what libs like u could win w/ statist secularism
ZF: And you don’t think enshrining discrimination in law is abuse of government by a group of religious believers? (What is “statist” secularism? Did you mean stalinist? Surely you don’t think that’s what any secularist actually wants.)
PL: There’s far deeper + longer history beh Jud-Christ’n (biblical) understand’g of rights than newfangled homo’y-based “rights” #tcot
ZF: That’s true! But don’t we have the potential to learn and grow? Can’t we learn new things, incorporate new understandings? Honestly, Jesus brought many new ideas that were contrary to the Old Testament past. Was that a bad thing too?
PL: Whch is to say “gay rights” are not truly “Western” (civilized) but insted really a corruption of a hist’l understan’g of “rights”
ZF: But isn’t it in civilized countries where gay rights are thriving? What distinguishes your “corruption” from my “progress?”
PL: …This explains why today we see #lgbt “rights” advancing (or being imposed judicially) at the expense of rel liberty #tcot #ocra
ZF: How exactly do #lgbt rights impose on religious liberty? I haven’t seen laws that prevent holding specific beliefs.
PL: Banning the outworking of faith (eg New Mex Ch’n photog sued by lesbians 4 not taking photos at their “commitmnt cerem’ny”) (cont) …IS the imposition of “gay rights” against individ’s “rel liberty,” no? What would u call it? #lgbt #christian #tcot #hhrs #tlot
ZF: Well, it sounds like you see the “right to believe” and the “right to discriminate based on belief” as the same thing, yes?
PL: What if I told u that u could (foolkishly) BELIEVE there’s no Creator but cannot ACT on that belief? #tcot #christian
ZF: I guess I’d be bothered by being called “foolish,” but I guess I’m not sure what that would prevent me from doing? Go on. Btw, I really do find this to be a worthwhile and meaningful exchange and hope it continues. Mind if I blog our thread? Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how your AFTAH undercover reporters’ #cc11 experiences compare to my own! Anyways, tell me more about what it would be like if I could not act on my atheism. What would it prevent me from doing? [He gave his blogging okay via DM.]
PL: so lets say u as a very committed atheist artist r approachd by a Ch’n to paint a giant mural message, “Atheism is evil” (Cont) …Should u be compelled (by the gov’t) to work on that mural – even tho ur an atheist – under, say, a “Christian Rights” law?
ZF: Well, I see where you’re going, but is it the best example? Art is about expression, not belief; artists can’t be compelled. I don’t think an artist of any identity should be compelled to paint a certain view; otherwise it’s no longer art.
PL: Elaine H, #christian photog is an artist w/ a busin. Was it persecut’n 4 her to b forced by NM law to shoot a lesb ceremony? #tcot
ZF: She offered a public service, a business like you said. Her photos are skilled, but do not represent expression. It’s no different than a Christian landlord refusing to rent an apartment to someone openly gay. It’s just discrimination.
PL: Says who? Says Big Brother (or Big Gay Brother) gov’t? #tcot #ocra #christian
ZF: It’s blatantly refusing access because of identity. How is that not discrimination? (See “lunch counters circa 1960.”)
PL: Wait a min: Do I have a “right” 2 rent an apt fr a gay landlord? Or a “right” to b a membr or even a leader at an #lgbt org? #tcot
ZF: I have a right to rent an apartment. It doesn’t matter the landlord’s SO. Everyone is welcome as members of #lgbt orgs. You have a right, just as I do, to NOT be discriminated against for your sexual orientation. Unfortunately, I actually do NOT have that right in many states. I can be fired or refused housing just for being gay.
PL: + I can be hired or not hired for being (too) straight, right? (+ lets face it: there’s no rash of “gay” firings these these days! Sorry, typo: that was supp to be “Fired or not hired [by an #lgbt employer] for being (too) straight”…
ZF: I suppose you could be fired for being straight if the laws aren’t there. Does that mean you’d support SO protections? But gay firing still happen all the time, and are still legal in 34 states.
ZF: Let’s face it, discrimination based on race, gender, and religion, and we have protections for those (which I also support). For the record, I would not support an atheist or gay person discriminating against a Christian. The actual numbers: 37% of GL people reported workplace harassment, 12% losing job for SO (2008). http://bit.ly/h8TIAp Also, elderly lesbian couples are TWICE as likely to be living in poverty as elderly op-sex couples. http://bit.ly/ebKKGW
[msvavirgo: I was one of both the 37% and the 12% in case you need to put a face to the statistic]
PL: So wld u supp a Chn taking a lead’p role at your campus atheist club – like #lgbt cases try’g 2 sue way into #christian clubs? … Note: the #lgbt students are “suing” using campus “sexual orientation” nondisc codes… #lgbt #christian
ZF: There is no reported case of infiltration. I agree that all people should be eligible to be members and run for offices. If a group is foolish enough to vote someone into position who doesn’t support the group’s mission, it’s their prob. But a Christian who is committed to the work of an atheist group would be great, just like straight allies in an LGBT group!
PL: No I dont demnd right to b hired by @GOPROUD altho then I could get live daily workout updates fr narcissist @ChrisRBarron #gop
ZF: As for the workout updates, there’s another point upon which we very much agree.
So that’s where things stand today. Peter informed me that he would be unavailable to tweet much today, but that he is interested in pursuing the conversation. He has also expressed interest in hearing about my coming out experiences (I shared my posts about arriving at “gay” and “atheist” with him and invited questions), as well as having a discussion about what we each consider to be “adult,” i.e. inappropriate for young people to discuss. Certainly, I will have some critical things to say as he starts reporting on Creating Change from the AFTAH perspective, but something about this exchange still seems somehow fruitful.
As the Zeitgeist dwells on the concept of “civility,” I’m kind of proud that Peter and I can demonstrate a civil exchange, despite how profoundly we disagree.
Note: I’m going to at least allude to aspects of sex and my own sexuality in this post, so if you’re the kind of person who might judge me for that, please do us both a favor and skip this post.
Creating Change offers a huge variety of workshops, academies, and day-long institutes to choose from, which is one of the many reasons it continues to be a rich experience every year. This year, I decided to take a risk by committing to a day-long institute that would be a personal learning opportunity as opposed to just a professional skill-building one.
Geographies of Sex: Mapping our Desire: An Institute for Sexual Liberation
Any time a title has two colons in it, you know it will be intense, and it was, but in really poignant ways.
The goal of the institute was “discovering and reclaiming pivotal experiences that have forged our sexual paths” so that we can map our desire and “move toward a more vibrant, empowered daily expression of our sexualities.” So yes, that meant lots of people talking about their sex lives, and then each of us taking time to reflect on our own sex lives and examine them for themes and understandings of how we think about sex today and make decisions about how to move forward. But no, I’m not going to blog my entire desire map.
Sex is so taboo, and it’s bizarre! We are all sexual beings. We all have sex lives (even abstinent ones). We all have fantasies. We all have desires and our bodies are all capable of experiencing pleasure. And yet conversations about sex have really diminished in our movement.
What’s the one thing that sets apart queer people from the heterosexual/cisgender homogeneity? Our bodies and what we do with them. And as we’ve pushed forward for acceptance, we’ve often done so at the expense of covering up the very things that make us unique.
The problem is that all thoughts related to sex reside in the primal part of our brain. It’s the place where anger and fear are first-responses and it’s quite far removed from our much more evolved intuition and critical thinking skills. So when people are faced with conversations about sex, people go to that very protective place, which makes it difficult to move forward. We’ve moved toward equality by sacrificing our understanding of our own sexuality.
But honestly… if there is consent and mutual benefit, everything should be fair game.
So let me take my own little step towards a liberated queer community. My name is Zack. I have kinks and fetishes. I am also a romantic and love connecting with sexual partners on deeper levels. And after spending a day examining my sexual history, I realized that I’ve been tentative and insecure with sex in the past. I’ve been afraid of sex, I’ve been afraid of not being desired, and I’ve been afraid to let myself feel pleasure. Moving forward, I am going to try to overcome these insecurities and take a greater ownership of my desires. I’m not ashamed to be a sexual being and I’m not going to let anyone suggest I should be. In fact, I’m going to do my best to encourage others in embracing their own desires as well.
What’s hot for someone is hot for someone.
If shame is in charge, we avoid opportunities for pleasure for ourselves.
If you don’t play out sexual desires, they could take over in other ways.
Those are three quotes from the day. I can’t wait to see how someone tries to use this personal disclosure against me at some point in my life.
Honestly, what I just shared is nothing compared to the kinds of conversations we had at the institute. Here are a few examples of some of the discussions that came up…
It’s not uncommon to have rape fantasies, but what if you’re a rape victim? What kind of sexual paradox is it to still find pleasure in a fantasy that has such a traumatic imprint in your life? I can’t even begin to imagine that conflict, but how liberating it was to have several people in the room who could speak to it. Once you’ve healed, you can play with it. Without undermining the severity of rape, these powerful survivors spoke to reclaiming their sexuality and their desire. How profound to focus on being the survivor instead of always being the victim!
What about consensual incest? I’m talking about two people who have a familial connection but are both capable and willing of giving consent to the other for sexual pleasure. It’s a thought that really racks the brain and makes us think it’s such a horrible thing. What about even just the fantasy of it? What about having a crush on a sibling or a cousin? Given that we’re all sexual beings, don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the question before dismissing it outright for the ick factor it evokes?
Are fantasies in our head meant to stay there or be realized? Sometimes our desires have consequences. Sometimes we spend our whole lives “performing” instead of just “being,” letting go. How do sex workers rediscover what their own sexual desires actually are? How do racial dynamics impact power exchange play? How do we distinguish between our personal sexual feelings and the feelings we have for our partners? How do we ensure that we aren’t just catering to our partner’s desires at the sacrifice of our own?
One of the panelists discussed a time when he and his partner of then-5 years were having a fight. It had come to light that both of them had had sexual encounters outside of their relationship. But the fight wasn’t working. It was a conditioned response; they weren’t fighting because they actually wanted to fight, but merely because they felt they were supposed to. They soon realized that they were actually both okay with the other’s “indiscretion.” In fact, it kind of made them hot to hear about what each did with the outside person. Eventually their relationship evolved to the point where they could be open and cruise together, and occasionally even welcome a third home with them. They sit on the subway and play the “who would you bang?” game. They are still a committed couple (now 11+ years as I recall), and they are confidently committed enough that they recognize they don’t (and never will) complement each other’s desires perfectly.
I still don’t know if I could ever do that… but how great is that? When we choose to value individuals’ sexuality and desires, it’s not difficult to arrive at a place where his experience with his partner actually sounds quite healthy and vibrant. Still, we have these constructs about what is “right” and “wrong” with sex that are hard to shake. Ultimately, what do we gain from these schemas except limitations to our own sexuality and relationships?
I want to share one more moment of personal learning for me. At one point, I made a comment to the group about how young people (like myself) have absorbed a lot of messages about safe sex that are motivated by fear of HIV and STIs. Later in the day, several different folks in the room disclosed they were HIV+ and that my comment reminded them of the stigma they often face and the way it can really stifle their sexuality. It caused them to shut down a little bit. I had really forgotten about the privilege I have as someone HIV-, and I had indirectly reinforced the stigma against people with HIV. I approached these individuals later to express my regret for the microaggression, and it’s an awareness about creating inclusive spaces that I will carry with me.
So, I hope I’ve given you all something to think about. Much thanks to all the presenters and panelists who helped give me something to think about! Sexual liberation is something I think we all deserve. I know I am nowhere close to being liberated, but engaging in these kinds of ideas has had a profound impact on my thinking. As we move forward in achieving LGBT equality, we have to continue creating space for our sexuality and acknowledge that sex can be a very positive thing. I welcome your thoughts about these important ideas as we all challenge the taboo around sexuality and desire together.
At the end of the intense and emotionally draining day, we were invited to share a next step we were going to take upon leaving the workshop. One young man shared simply, “I intend to fuck soon.” He received a boisterous round of applause.
Well, another fabulous Creating Change conference has come to an end. I’m chilling in the Minneapolis airport—exhausted, emotionally drained, and completely satiated. This would be the kind of feeling a religious believer would probably describe as being well within their soul.
More about religion later this week.
Every year, I feel compelled to write something during this moment of limbo while I leave behind “homotopia” to return to a world of heterosexual privilege and queer social isolation.
After leaving Denver in 2009, I described the awesome and important new connections I made there. Last year, Dallas left me energized to take action by bringing the energy of of the conference home with me. This year, I feel compelled to just say a few words about family.
It’s not used as often these days, but folks still often use “family” to describe members of the queer community. “Are they family?” It’s a little code to recognize a connection between us all and how our lives in this society are different from the heterosexual and cisgender norms.
But despite its purpose as a codeword, it also carries an underlying depth with it. Creating Change really is a big family reunion in a lot of ways. It’s an ever-growing family, and it’s the perfect opportunity to welcome and engage with new members.
I’m sitting in the airport with a new friend I made as we wait for his flight to leave. He’s someone I didn’t know four days ago and someone I’m now very sad to say goodbye to, one of countless new and old connections from the weekend that fit that description. I can’t imagine not cherishing every last second I have to enjoy such wonderful company. And whether or not any of us keep in touch regularly (we will) or see each other again before CC12 in Baltimore, our lives are different because our paths have crossed.
And as we all depart from the land of lakes, we return to lives where we don’t have this family at our immediate disposal, but we are refreshed and energized. We are reminded that we’re not alone, that our struggles locally are not unique and that we have a family to fall back on.
Most days, being queer is just one small facet of our lives that really doesn’t define us. But some days, we remember that it is still a significant part of who we are, a slice of our identities that connects us to others in a unique way we cannot ever truly lose.
Those of us with the privilege of attending Creating Change have a responsibility to bring back that sense of family to our schools and communities. We’ve touched base with that sense of love, support, and dependence that is at the heart of our queerness, and we owe it to the others in our lives to help them feel the same.
I’m tired and very emotionally drained, so I’ll refrain from babbling much more at this point… but to all you folks out there: you are loved. We are all part of a family, and it’s a family who will always be there waiting when we need it.
Well, despite all the crazy weather happening across the U.S., I got to Minneapolis without any complications.
I’m very excited to be here for Creating Change, the National Conference on LGBT Equality. While my experience at CC over the next few days will give me plenty of food for thought, it will keep me from writing much here on the blog.
That’s why you should totally be following me and the conference hashtag on Twitter (#cc11). I will be tweeting up a storm, and you will get a good sense from me and others of all the fabulous things happening here.
As I write this, I’m sitting next to Rikki, a young man who is here for his first-ever Creating Change. He’s not sure what to make of it, but I told him it will be a transformative experience. To exist in a totally queer space for four days is a unique and incomparable experience, and I’m excited and honored to get to experience it again.
After last year’s Creating Change conference in Dallas, I wrote about how many celebrations of religion there were yet there was nothing that so much as recognized atheists might have even been in attendance. Since then, I’ve had numerous conversations with folks in the movement about the phenomenon, and the consensus has been that this embrace of religion is new, and a swinging of the pendulum away from what used to be a very toxic environment for any discussion of religion to an environment eager to reconcile with religion.
With the Creating Change conference as our case study, it seems that the pendulum has not reached its highest point; in fact, this year’s conference unabashedly embraces faith with a whole subconference called Practice Spirit, Do Justice.
The conference’s Spiritual Needs Subcommittee offers a Spiritual Diversity Ethics Statement (p. 20 of the Program Book), suggesting the following principles:
What we can affirm and agree on is:
» The inherent worth of every person; that every person is worthy of respect, support, caring, and invitation.
» The intention to work towards a culture free of discrimination and oppression based on any identity.
» The ethic that everyone is welcome to participate in this conference without the need to become like us in order to be acceptable.
» That the way we behave towards one another is the truest expression of [what] we believe.
I agree with all these principles. Still, the preponderance of religion-focused and faith-centric sessions seems to communicate an expectation that communing with faith is an essential part of LGBT work, which I inherently disagree with. I expect that there will be several occasions this year, as with last, when I will be in a situation when a religious practice is taking place around me.
First, there are a number of spiritual gatherings (p.25), which I actually appreciate as part of an inclusive conference, including Muslim Friday Prayer, Shabbat Celebration, and a Sunday morning interfaith gathering. The Calling of the Names continues to be part of a plenary session, but as long as it is not dominated by rhetoric like “lifting them up,” I think a group remembrance can be very meaningful for people of any worldview.
Faith in America is holding a reception Friday evening to discuss the way people justify stigma and hostility against the LGBT community (p. 37). I continue to be nonplussed by FIA, an organization that defends and challenges faith at the same time. Members of the Episcopalian, Unitarian, and Metropolitan Community Churches are having receptions as well (p. 38).
The Practice Spirit, Do Justice subconference has its own day-long institute on Thursday to address intersectional movement building for both veterans and newbies of faith organizing and movement building (p. 43). There also several PSDJ sessions as part of the Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action (p. 51).
Here are some of the other workshops that relate to faith or that are part of the Practice Spirit, Do Justice track:
Beyond Transgender Inclusion to Transformation (p. 71)
Faith Based Models that futher Self-determination, Sovereignty and the Preservation of Sacred Sites (p. 72)
Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims (p. 72)
Making the Christian Case for LGBT Equality: Message Training (p. 73)
Join the Movement, Keep the Faith (p. 76)
Messology of the Black Church (p. 77)
The Pulpit of the Press: Making the Religious Case for LGBT Equality (p. 77)
(LGBTQ) Justice, (LGBTQ) Justice Shall You Pursue (p. 78)
Changing Minds of Conservative/Evangelical Christians (p. 79)
Media Savvy for Media Strategies (p. 81)
“God Hates Fags” (p. 82)
Race and Power: An Examination of Intersectionality (p. 84)
Working with Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) Congregations to Become Welcoming (p. 85)
Homo-Interior: Religious Design for Your Queer Soul (p. 88)
Telling Our Stories (p. 89)
Transgender: A Question of Faith (p. 89)
Lifting As We Climb: An Exercise (therefore you might sweat) In Rethinking How We Do What We Do So We Can Do It Better (p. 89)
Case Studies For Denominational Engagement (p. 89)
Mobilizing Pro-Equality Catholics on LGBT Issues (p. 91)
Of Faith and On-Line: Tools to Get Going (p. 91)
It’s All About The Frame (p. 94)
LGBT Synagogues and Organizations: Surfacing Our Diversity and Fitting the Mosaic Together (p. 94)
Spirit and Desire: Framing a Discussion About Our Spiritual and Erotic Lives (p. 95)
Building the Response to HIV and AIDS Across Communities (p. 97)
Humor, Hospitality, and Heliotropes as Tools for Social Change (p. 97)
Majority Minority – Case Studies in Advancing Equality among People of Color and People of Faith (p. 98)
Strategic Storytelling (p. 99)
Uganda-the Armageddon of the Culture Wars (p. 99)
Building a Statewide Interfaith Network for Equality (p. 101)
Fighting Islamophobia and Homophobia: Building Solidarity in Oppressed Communities (p. 101)
The Possibilities of Faith Work In An Aging LGBTQ Community (p. 103)
Building Bridges to Wholeness – Next Strategies for LGBT Jewish Movement Building (p. 104)
It’s All About Me: Queer Spirituality (p. 105)
Pagan and Queer (p. 106)
Queer Muslim Caucus (p. 106)
Strength for the Journey: A Reflective Workshop (p. 107)
That’s a whole lot of faith.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of these workshops. I’ll probably go to some of them. Still, it’s a healthy chunk of the conference dedicated to discussing (and often reinforcing) faith and spirituality. What’s important to note is that such a focus isn’t just unwelcoming of nonbelievers, it can also be contrary to the perspectives many bring to this work.
Certainly, many of these workshops are about working with people of faith or responding to people of faith, which doesn’t necessarily require being one. However, there is only one session at the whole conference that recognizes the existence of nonbelievers or those who might not have the same interest in promoting or reinforcing faith and spirituality.
And guess who’s hosting that atheist caucus Friday night?
I think this pendulum swing of our movement’s approach to religion is something worth discussing. I hope folks will come to the caucus to have that conversation, because I honestly don’t know how welcome it will be in the sessions I just listed above.
Is religion a good thing?
How do critical dialogues on religion impact efforts for LGBT equality?
What challenges do we face when we come out as atheists?
How can we best utilize the support of LGBT allies who are nonbelievers?
What responsibility does the LGBT community have to be allies to the atheist community?
These are some of the important questions I’m hoping to address this week. Perhaps I should be optimistic that so many other folks are as enthusiastic to discuss religion as I am.
This week, weather permitting, I’ll be shoving off to Minneapolis for Creating Change, the National Conference on LGBT Equality. I want to invite you, my readers, to chime in about what sessions you think look interesting. I’ll try my best to attend some of them so I can report back here on the blog.
For those attending, take note that I will be hosting a caucus for nonbelievers on Friday evening at 6:30.
Look through the program. There are a LOT of interesting workshops! Then leave a comment letting me know which ones you would want to attend if you could be at the conference!
Also, if you’ve never seen the Creating Change program book before, it’s worth reading through the diversity etiquette sections at the top. I can’t think of any conference that goes to such lengths to make it an inclusive experience for all in attendance.
Alright, so we admit we have an agenda, but what is it? Lots of people, like straight pastors and well-funded Glb(t) political operatives, think they know. Zack and Peterson try to suss out who sets the agenda and what it happens to be today. What are the bars by which we measure the success of the LGBTQ movement? We also talk about folks who are trying to bridge gaps, but might just be helping to maintain them. From Egypt to Hollywood to Washington, D.C., we look at who is shaping the agenda and chime in with our hopes and concerns.