Last week I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual conference: Creating Change. This conference is a series of workshops, day long institutes, and other educational events designed to empower Queer* activists by strengthening our core values while encouraging growth, gain, and unique networking opportunities. With an expanding emphasis on intersectional justice, comprehensive education on trans identities and even sexual empowerment, Creating Change is an incredible opportunity to be an even better activist.
This was my first Creating Change, and I spent much of my time at the Soulforce table, telling people about the next Equality Ride and the other great things we do. I spoke to hundreds of people throughout the week, handed out tons of flyers and even gave out a bunch of prizes. In addition to the general festivities, there were some activities that reminded me of how important the work is that we do here at Soulforce.
During the final full day of Creating Change, another conference was going on at the convention center next door and was a youth event hosted by a very fundamentalist group of “Christians”. Some of the youth had been instructed by their leaders to proselytize to folks at Creating Change and were encouraged to pray over us, invite us to “accept Christ”, and even suggested laying their hands on us! Here, a whole convention of youth are being told that our beautiful Queer identities are not wonderful, integral parts of our spirits which should be celebrated, but instead should be prayed for.
This kind of spiritual violence is exactly what we aim to dismantle in programs like the Equality Ride and in the other denominational actions Soulforce has participated in since our inception in 1999. Unfortunately, this kind of event is all too common and although I am an advocate for free speech and freedom of religion, I don’t believe in hate speech, homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, and blatant spiritual violence as was exemplified by this group, and many of the other conservative “Christian” groups out there. This is the same language and intent that has kept me closeted for the first 24 years of my life and, more importantly, the force that encourages Queer people to take our own lives. This is not an issue of speech for me, but instead an issue of hate. When this kind of spiritual violence is perpetuated, people are killed, communities are ripped apart, and countless others are living in silence, fear, and shame.
When we first caught wind of this conservative Christian group and their plans to proselytize, I reached out to the Equality Riders, other Soulforce participants, and others who were attending Creating Change. Luckily, these individuals have been trained in the principles of non-violent resistance and I knew we would be able to not only protect the other Creating Change attendees but hopefully have transformative experiences as well. At the request of the program staff at Creating Change, we were able to assist in escorting folks from the conference to their cars and hotels, acting as buffers between members of the Queer communities and these misguided conference goers.
It is sad that such a buffer is still so needed in 2011, but I am grateful that Soulforce is training and empowering people in the principles of non-violence and truth. Many of the volunteers who helped us at Creating Change were former Equality Riders and it was in this interaction I was able to really feel the presence of their training and dedication.
As we gear up to launch our next Equality Ride in the spring of 2012, events like this one remind me how important programs like the Equality Ride truly are.
The success of the Equality Ride depends on you! We hope that you are willing to continue your generous support of this and the other programs that Soulforce offers. Please check out www.equalityride.com to find ways to get involved, and as always, we need and appreciate your financial support. Donate today! Thank you!
To support the Equality Ride, please make a contribution to the Equality Ride Fund. You can also signup to give monthly which will help ensure we can continue to pursue justice for queer people as long as necessary.
*In the context of this article and the viewpoints of the author, the term Queer is used to describe a broad and diverse set of identities. These identities can consist of, but are not limited to: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Pansexual, Intersex, Genderqueer, Gender Non Conforming, and Allied individuals.