Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey presents State of the Movement address
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey presented the annual State of the Movement address today at the 25th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, in Atlanta, Ga., where more than 3,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates have gathered to strategize on how to advance equality. Below is the full text of the State of the Movement speech:
Hello Atlanta! We are excited to be here with so many Southern activists. If you are from the South, make some noise! If you are excited to be in Atlanta, make some noise!
There have been many, many years when we’ve come together here at Creating Change, when we could still feel the sting of the ballot box and we were worried about the havoc an anti-LGBT president could bring on our lives, our country and our world.
Years when our renewed hopes that some state referendum would confirm a swing in the national mindset were dashed.
There have been years when we would come here to lift each other up, to assure each other that change would soon happen, that change was happening, despite the losses, despite our fear there might be something in the national sentiment that would never move.
This is not that year!
This year is not one of those years!
This year, we come together to celebrate.
This year was the year when enough people stood together, joined together and said enough. Enough!
Enough with being marginalized, enough with being ignored, enough with being treated like we and our families and our votes really don’t matter.
Women, Latinos, African Americans and progressive people of faith came together in communities across the country and made the deciding difference at the ballot box. Last year at this conference, both Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, and I made an urgent call to fight the voter suppression efforts under way — and we did.
In 2012, those who sought to deny our voices went too far and as people of color and people in poor communities went to the polls, determined to have a voice, they stood there and stood there and stood there until they could cast their votes. That, my friends, is victory over oppression, over systemic racism. It is a victory for human dignity.
Yes, we’ve got more to do, but, just think about it…
This year, we have a record number seven “out” members of Congress including the first woman senator from the great state of Wisconsin, an out lesbian, Senator Tammy Baldwin. And, a historic first out bisexual member of Congress, Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. And the first out Japanese-American Congressman, Mark Takano of California.
The tables are turning.
This year, a broad coalition of voters showed up for young immigrants in Maryland and approved a statewide DREAM Act, showing our country what true opportunity looks like.
This year, voters returned Barack Hussein Obama to the White House, who has not only demonstrated with actions that he is the most LGBT-supportive president in the history of our country, but with the inclusion of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in his inaugural speech, he squarely placed LGBT equality in the long lineage of movements that have had watershed moments from Seneca Falls to Selma. (And, we will work with him to say more than “gay.”)
As I sat at the foot of the Capitol holding my daughter’s hand, listening to the president, watching the fierce Latina Justice Sonia Sotomayor swearing in the vice president, hearing a more inclusive benediction, being transported by the poetry of Richard Blanco — a gay, Cuban immigrant — and the invocation by civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams…well, let’s just say I thought, “Yes! This is the country I know, this is the country I want my daughter to grow up in.”
What happened on the steps of the Capitol earlier this week was in so many ways remarkable. Real change. But it was also made inevitable because of the work you in this room, and many like us across the country have done for decades. You made that happen. You made those words come out of the president’s mouth.
And this year, after losing 31 times at the ballot box — yes, 31 times, but who’s counting — this year we won big on marriage.
We beat back marriage opponents in Minnesota and we won marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington state!
If you are from Minnesota, Maine, Maryland or Washington, stand up or raise your hand and now let us celebrate you! If you posted on Facebook, Twitter or otherwise encouraged people to vote the right way, stand or raise your hand! If you made a donation of time or money to help these wins, stand or raise your hand. Thank you!
The Task Force was proud to dedicate our staff, our money, grassroots training, leadership development support, our social media machine and expertise in all four of these states to contribute to a history-making election.
In fact, led by the Task Force’s organizers and faith staff, I’d like to publicly thank our Task Force staff, who worked on marriage, the Maryland DREAM Act, and against the death penalty in California.
As always, we did what we do best: working at the grassroots level, organizing and engaging voters, and this year we expanded that focus by mobilizing progressive people of faith — and guess what, it worked! We knocked on doors, spoke to congregations, walked neighborhoods and had thousands of one-on-one conversations that changed people’s hearts, and we changed people’s votes.
And what makes our movement’s success this last year even more powerful, more meaningful and more lasting is that it was not just the LGBT community, not just LGBT people who worked for or celebrated these wins.
In fact, some of the first calls and e-mails I got when the president came out for marriage and when marriage equality won in state after state, were from leaders of civil rights, labor, women’s and other non-LGBT organizations.
If there is one message we can take away from Election Night 2012, it is that we are not alone. We are not alone as a movement, as a people, and we need to make sure no one else is alone either.
I’m thinking about so many people here in the South and elsewhere who still face isolation. The activists fighting — and living — under Georgia’s reprehensible immigration law; the young women fighting for reproductive rights in rural, often unwelcoming, areas; and those still living in grinding, debilitating poverty, the kind of poverty we don’t even want to acknowledge still exists in our country because the very fact that it still does is a raw reminder that our economy and our public policy still play favorites.
For 40 years, the Task Force has been at the forefront of our movement’s work for freedom, justice, liberation and equality and for 25 years, we’ve been meeting here at Creating Change to share strategies, gain skills and plan the future.
Forty years doesn’t seem so long today, now that there’s some wind at our back, the momentum of change growing and energizing our step, but we can never forget what it took to get us to this day — the struggles, the sacrifices, the loss we have been through as a movement.
Those strong shoulders and brave hearts that held us up and moved us forward, some are here to enjoy the fruits of our labor but many are not because of HIV and AIDS, cancer or the sheer weight of what oppression does to a person. To honor them we must not rest, we must not slow down, we must not stop reaching, we must never forget where we’ve come from.
And so, as the Task Force celebrates its 40th anniversary, we must look both backward and forward.
Like other social justice movements before us, we have been fortunate to have dynamic, determined, smart and passionate leaders willing to step forward, expose our nation’s disturbing and painful gaps in freedom, and then call on us to dig for our moral compass and push our country forward.
Leaders like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (who still carries on despite Del’s passing). Like Harvey Milk, Frank Kameny, Bayard Rustin, Vera Martin, Olga Vives and Alexis Rivera.
And despite all their accomplishments, I suspect not one of them would claim to have made change alone. In communities across the country they came together with lovers, with friends, with compatriots in the struggle for human rights. They created family. Chosen family.
While the LGBT community certainly didn’t invent the idea of chosen family, I believe through necessity, through our struggle to survive and to love, we may have perfected it.
I’ve been in this movement a long time and we’ve changed everything from the words we use to describe our love for each other, to changing the words we use in our marriage campaigns.
We’ve learned over time, and through more than a few losses, what truly touches people’s emotions and what changes their votes; that a vote is a personal thing; that it’s as much a thing of the heart as the mind.
As we’ve worked to gain recognition for our relationships, we’ve learned that talking about “rights” and “privileges” and the “obligations” of marriage doesn’t really touch people’s hearts in the same way as talking about love and commitment.
And so today, I challenge us to take to heart the words — family, love, and commitment — but let’s not restrict or limit them to one view of what our families are supposed to look like. Let family and love and commitment expand our lives, not restrain them.
After all, from the very first moments of our modern LGBT movement, we have given shape to the word family not the other way around; and we, out of our own experience, have created beautiful, expansive chosen families. As the saying goes, “An army of lovers…” or, in our movement’s case, an army of ex-lovers — often makes up our families.
Our movement must be one that embraces the many ways we create and choose our family.
We want a family that understands, that has our back, that picks us up when we need it, that pushes us further when we tire, a family that walks in the door when everyone else has walked out.
And that’s how I like to think of our movement and our Task Force family at 40 years.
Sure it can seem a bit cliché to talk about the Task Force as a family.
But to those who might think it’s a cliché, all I have to say is, you don’t know the Task Force.
For 40 years, the Task Force has been an incubator helping to create scores of organizations across the country. Through our campaigns, initiatives and through late-night meetings here at Creating Change, activists just like you, and in fact many of you, have created groups that have picked up the fight for people with HIV/AIDS, for anti-violence programs, youth activism, the original campaigns to work against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and strengthened our movement’s work against racism and for economic justice.
It’s why, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Task Force, it is really a celebration of our movement’s family. A celebration of you and your work.
And there is one more group here today that I want to welcome to our family.
Thanks to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, there is a group of 26 HIV/AIDS and LGBT activists here today from China and Taiwan.
I was fortunate to meet with them yesterday and I am so inspired by their vision, their courage, their creativity. They are the founders of the LGBT movement in China and Taiwan and we welcome them to our family. Welcome.
Again and again we show up for each other, add new people to our family and unfortunately, at times, lose members of our family.
We’ve had an unusual number of deaths last year. Our staff and board members lost parents, grandparents, key Task Force volunteers, and tragically a child. We lost a dear friend and co-worker in Sandi Greene, who as many of you know was an extraordinary woman who worked for the Task Force for a decade and greeted people at the Creating Change registration area every year. Sandi was not afraid to say that as a black straight woman she was part of this family working for civil rights. I so wish she could’ve seen the president’s speech.
But loss does not have to weaken us…
In this room of our chosen family, as well as those who are miles away and could not be with us but who are family too, we must choose to be strengthened.
We have long known that, unfortunately, there are those who dedicate themselves to trying to separate us, break us apart, and undermine the social progress and justice we have won.
It’s certainly something we’ve seen here in the South, something we still see. But, as a movement, we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the South about sticking together as a social justice family, about perseverance and resistance.
The politics of division and greed, the vestiges of slavery that still shape opinion and policies and still contribute to a modern systemic disenfranchisement that has yet to be overcome, this is our struggle too.
And those who seek to divide us, need to take a look at this room. More than 3,000, out, proud, determined, not intimidated and not going anywhere, here in Atlanta, reaffirming our chosen family — our bonds of love together. Nothing can divide us.
I saw the true power of this commitment and strength on Election Night.
I was in Maine on Election Night. After a late-night celebration and being up until 4 a.m. waiting on news from other states, I got up and headed to the airport that next morning, proudly wearing my shockingly bright orange “Yes on 1” T-shirt.
Person after person after person — almost all of them straight — came up to me and said simply, “Finally!”
As I was enjoying a celebratory lobster roll for breakfast in the airport, a woman came up to me and introduced herself as Sue — drawn, of course, by the bright orange T-shirt. She is a longtime Mainer, a captain in the U.S. Coast Guard. She gave me what is called a Challenge Coin from the U.S. Coast Guard given for going above and beyond the call of duty, and said, “This is to remind you of who you are working for, who you are helping.” And, by implication, how much we still have left to do and how we will have to defend our wins.
I was inspired by Sue and how even though she has privilege — she will benefit as a service member from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and she and her partner will now have the choice to get married in Maine if they want. But, she has challenged me to remember every day that our work remains incomplete. And that those of us who do have some privileges must never mistake them for real equality or freedom for all.
I carry this Challenge Coin with me now. It’s a little, constant weight in my pocket reminding me that as we win in some areas like marriage, we must always be clear that we are not a one-issue movement. We are not a marriage-only movement, or an employment-only movement or any other ONLY movement. We are a movement that cares broadly about the issues that affect our lives.
Some days I wake up astonished at the pace of our progress, but I also wake up angry about the lack of basic, basic protections for LGBT people. And I think about how, as we are in the spotlight for our progress on marriage, it can be more challenging to draw attention to the many other issues that affect our lives. We must educate our community and the country.
We must choose as a basic moral value, never to leave any of our movement’s family behind.
Even though we’ve made extraordinary progress with states that now have marriage equality, guess what? In a number of the states where we have marriage equality, we still do not have full nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
Think about it.
In the coming months, thousands of couples will travel to Maine, Maryland and Washington or the other states and D.C. where marriage is legal. Their friends and families will surround them. They will have the wedding of their dreams, they will return home excited and, like our straight friends, they will put a picture of their spouse on their desk — and some of them will get fired.
They will get fired simply because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And it is perfectly legal to do so.
In four states where marriage is legal, a couple can invite their transgender friends to their wedding, but if those friends try to check into a hotel, they could easily — and legally — be denied a room. Because they are transgender.
Think of that, of the recent voter-suppression efforts, of the violence committed against transgender people, of the immigration discrimination, of the skyrocketing HIV-infection rates in our community when someone questions whether we still have work to do.
So, yes, as marriage equality takes wider hold — and five or more Supreme Court justices willing — we will finally end government-sponsored discrimination against couples on the federal level — our progress on marriage has made more apparent the dangers for those who could still be left behind by our movement and by our country.
As a movement, as activists, as human beings, we are called in the very midst of our joy, of our celebration to say, “It is not enough unless our entire family can experience full freedom, full equality, full justice.”
It is not enough for parents who send their child off to school each day worried if he or she will return home with a black eye, a broken rib, a crushed self-esteem, or worse.
It is not enough, when many of us believe we are safe, but only because we have the economic privilege to move to a safer city or neighborhood.
That is not freedom.
We will never be whole, we will never be free, until every single one of us feels safe to express ourselves sexually, intellectually and spiritually and finds support in our homes, places of worship and workplaces.
But I have hope…actually, I’m past hope.
I know that our movement can do something extraordinary if we set our intentions behind it. I know that we will not leave any one of us behind even as the pressures to do so are growing.
We can do this. We really can. We can resist the pressure to become smaller, to narrow our sights, to be lulled into thinking we are near the end of our work.
So as we celebrate our wins, and we should, we earned them, let’s not ease up a single moment on pushing for change. We must not leave any of our family members behind.
When we win federal marriage equality — and we will — we must not leave behind the 31 states that will still need to overturn their constitutional bans on marriage equality. We must not be satisfied with states that have marriage and states that do not.
We must not leave behind those who will choose NOT to get married.
We must not leave behind those who still live in the 29 states that have virtually no protections for LGBT people.
We must not leave those behind, who just because they don’t live in a big, coastal city, can’t kiss their lover on the street.
We must not leave behind the transgender immigrant whose true self is not honored as she is detained in the men’s facility.
And as we win protections in housing, employment and public accommodations — and we will — we must continue to ask, who in our family is still hurting? Who is unable to live their lives completely free from prejudice, violence and persecution?
Yes, this is our moment — an LGBT movement moment. But, if we are to be truly transformational as a movement, we must use this moment to not only benefit LGBT people but the country as a whole. That is our leadership challenge as a movement.
This year, I have seen hundreds of ways we stand with each other, hold each other as family, how we expand our hearts, our love, commitment and compassion for one another.
I have seen activists risk deportation by being out about being gay and an immigrant, daring to tell the story of their whole identity. You’ll get to meet them tomorrow at our plenary.
I have been with reproductive rights and justice leaders as we work to make the connections between our two movements.
Look around you — there are over 3,000 stories of inspiration at this conference alone. Each one of us has had to overcome some hurdle to simply be who we are, to stand tall and face the world each day.
To just survive.
We at the Task Force have been inspired and have inspired for 40 years. Part of what has kept us going for four decades is that we are an organization that is obsessively focused on getting things done — on making concrete and tangible progress.
So, as we step into the beginning of the next 40 years you can count on us to Build Power, Take Action and Create Change.
We will build power as we officially launch our online grassroots Organizing Academy — the most sophisticated online training program in the LGBT movement, and frankly many other movements. We will train and support over 1,000 grassroots activists each year who are working for change in their community and we will ensure a diverse and prepared leadership in our movement for years to come.
We will take action on a range of issues that affect the lives of LGBT people, including pushing the president to issue an executive order to protect LGBT people working for federal contractors affecting millions of people across the country, until Congress gets their act together and passes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and to finish the work of burying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by allowing transgender people to serve openly, and same-sex married service members to get the same benefits as their straight peers.
We will continue to play a leadership role in partnering with immigration rights organizations in advocating for the many areas of comprehensive immigration reform that affect our community, including security for binational same-sex couples, respectful and appropriate treatment of transgender and HIV-positive immigrants; and ensuring that families are not separated for years on end as a result of our immigration laws. Creating a path to citizenship is an LGBT issue.
And we will create change. The Task Force will continue to lead in getting smarter and more sophisticated as we partner with states on ballot measures. In the coming months the Task Force and our colleagues at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center will be sharing with the movement post-election research we conducted that takes a hard look at how voters actually behave across ballot measure issues like marriage, immigration, taxes and education. Our analysis will not only help us as a movement to be smart about when we put forth ballot measures but on exactly which voters will vote for and against them based on how they vote on other issues.
We will build power, take action and create change.
I believe that all movements need guiding principles and values, a True North, and that ours must be love, commitment and compassion — but it must be an expansive love; a broad commitment to the many ways we create family; and compassion that leads to action for those who are marginalized.
Today, we have choices to make about the future of our movement.
What will we stand for?
Our Task Force brother — poet, activist and creator of change William Brandon Lacy Campos knew. He died this year but his words can still help guide us.
He wrote a poem titled, “On the Occasion of a Victory for President Elect, Senator Barack Obama,” which first calls out our nation’s history of slavery and then reads:
“Stand up at the dawn of this new day!
Stand up and let your joy proclaim
a new life
a new vision
a new way!
Stand up and protect what our fight has made!
the battle has raged through blood and pain
we shall overcome will be, we have overcame
Stand up what has won can be taken away!
As we look toward the next 40 years, if we are to succeed, we must stand up. We must be a movement that is about possibility over privilege; expanding over narrowing; unity over separation; creating change over settling for what is.
We are family, and we will not leave any of you behind!