Youth First Texas members attend Creating Change

February 16, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the growing "ex-gay movement" were among the myriad of issues that dominated the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference in Dallas earlier this month, but the all-day Youth of Color Organizing Summit was among the confab’s many highlights for local attendees.

More than 2,000 people from across the country descended upon the Sheraton Dallas for the four day conference. FIERCE, a New York-based organization whose focus remains on advocacy for LGBT youth of color, sponsored the all-day Youth of Color Summit. It included workshops and seminars about how to start youth-led campaigns and organizations and how to keep them operational while building grassroots activism at the local level.

More than 40 people, including several Dallas-based participants, took part. And FIERCE executive director Rickke Mananzala and member Ash Hammond said the conference and the summit in particular were designed to examine effective strategies to advance LGBT equality.

"Legal advocacy alone was the primary strategy to win gay marriage, and we really feel there is a danger in that, because it doesn’t engage people or sustain participation and mobilization over a long period of time," Mananzala said. "The dangers of that; meaning people check out. People don’t stay involved. People don’t feel meaningfully connected to the work, and that’s what organizing is."

Hammond addressed Dallas-specific concerns.

"I think one of the main struggles were about youth organizing and how to get more youth involved, because they noticed some of the organizations they were a part of adults were running the show, and telling the youth what they could work on, what they couldn’t work on, and they really just wanted to reach out to different youth organizations in the local area, get them involved and actually have a voice to make those changes they really wanted to see," she said.

Alexander Langley and Victor Rodriguez attended the conference on behalf of Youth First Texas. They said they feel the local-level strategies organizers presented were a step forward for their organization.

"I see it especially at Youth First Texas, where we have begun integrating the templates that were given to us into our own system," Langley, who is a college student and treasurer of Youth First Texas’s board, said. "FIERCE taught us how to make an educated decision as to how to decide what issues are today’s issues, and what issues are tomorrow’s."

LGBT youth advocacy was not the only local issue that resonated with those who attended Creating Change.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, raised immigration reform and its overlap with LGBT advocacy. He explained the current immigration system allows married spouses the right to petition for legal immigration of their partner, but it fails to recognize the same right for same-sex spouses or partners.

"I think that recognizing we need to adjust our definition of family also recognizes that we need to ensure that family reunification remains the primary goal of our immigration system," Saenz said. "Then we have to recognize that families come in lots of different configurations and incorporate that into our immigration law."

Saenz added he felt the conference brought to light the importance of local activism in order to change attitudes on Capitol Hill.

"We have to work together to convey as strongly as possible that we expect our leadership in DC to show courage and confront issues that may be... controversial, and we expect them to take those on in a progressive way," he said.

Creating Change attendees also discussed the so-called "ex-gay movement" and how to combat it, but some attendees complained panelists did not provide any specifics on how to move the movement forward. Mananzala addressed those arguments.

"I think the real question is, what’s the fate of our movement?," he asked. "So whatever happens at the conference is going to be an expression of where our movement is at. And where our movement is at right now, is that our strategies haven’t necessarily produced the outcome that everyone had anticipated. So I think everyone’s going back to the drawing board, to say, what do we do now? ...The conference definitely had people of differing opinions about strategies and issues to focus on, but I ultimately think that’s a good thing."