Most of the time I feel off to the margins, outside of the story. This happens even without direct actions of hate, without people purposefully marginalizing me. It's not until I am in the company of 2,700+ queers and allies that I realize how other I usually experience the world, how tired I sometimes get explaining things to people. For four days, I did not have to explain to anyone the purpose of a gender neutral bathroom (bathrooms on the meeting floors of the Hilton Hotel had been transformed to gender neutral), why queer is an appropriate term (books, sessions, dialogue proclaimed the term), and the meaning behind such inside references as T. In Baltimore, Maryland, for four days at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference I, along with all the other fabulous attendees, were the story.
Several key experiences helped shape the conference, and I am certain that these experiences will linger for quite awhile.
One of the first people I met when I got to the hotel was Edie Windsor. At that point, I had no idea who she was except for a woman with a room across the hall from me confronted with a similar momentary problem--our keys weren't working and neither of us could get into our respective rooms. We went downstairs together, got new keys, and both successfully returned to our rooms, this time each gaining access. The next day, I met Edie again in the elder hospitality suite (for those 50+), situated right down the hall from both of our rooms. She greeted me with a warm hug, a small kiss on my cheek, and a quick reminiscence of our key stress from the evening before. It wasn't until my second full day at the conference that I learned of Edie's strength, her courage, and her amazing poise as an 80+ LGBT activist engaged in a pivotal court case against DOMA.
Edie wasn't the only activist I learned about during the conference. While I consider myself fairly current when it comes to politics and LGBT news, I often realize that when the LGBT community becomes the story for four days, I have missed lots and need to catch up. Such was the case when I went to a session on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal. There I sat riveted to Katie Miller's wisdom, a courageous 21-year-old former West Point cadet who came out and has become a huge spokesperson.
Sometimes activism showed up spontaneously. During an early morning session (yup, 8am and I was present and caffeinated) with several members of the Obama administration discussing "the White House, administrative agencies and the LGBT community," several activist youth in the back mic checked the panel. You could see some of the panelists tense a bit, along with several members in the room from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At one point, outside the door, you could watch a security staff member hover, hoping for calm. It was, though, the articulate Urvashi Vaid who bridged the gap between the alienated youth and the panel, finding the common ground, restoring the calm so the conversation could continue.
For one day, I joined a group of approximately three-hundred to head off to Washington, D.C. for a chance to lobby for LGBT issues. During the morning, we were trained on the various issues (e.g. ENDA, Safe Schools Improvement Act, LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act). Empowered with information, I walked the halls of the Russell Senate office building, pumped up and a bit nervous about visiting with representatives from the offices of Senator Bennet and Udall. In Senator Bennet's office, five of us got to meet the Senator and tell him stories about our experiences, coming out of the margins, hoping our personal tales might linger when he makes decisions regarding his sponsorship of certain legislation related to the LGBT community.
I watched three students who attended the conference with me energized, making future plans, feeling like they mattered and they had a voice to create change.
And so I hold on to these memories, to this power, when I am faced daily with numerous headlines reporting instances of legislating hate and horrific stories about LGBT deaths. While I try to remain optimistic, sometimes I am simply stuck in the margins, unable to find my way back into the main story.