Sunday, February 1, 2009

Denver Colorado is Actually Quite Nice!

This is bent, on my way back from Denver where I was attending the Creating Change conference, "The National Conference on LGBT Equality" - hosted each year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It's an opportunity for lots of LGBT activists from around the country to gather and discuss what's going on nationally and in their communities. It tends to focus a bit on the more mainstream "gay" issues like marriage and such, but there are still radical and interesting spaces at the conference, including spaces created by folks coming from communities of color and poor communities. There's plenty to write about, but let's talk about one of the best moments for me of the conference: the plenary with Dolores Huerta speaking. 

Dolores Huerta herself is obviously off the hook, and was really excellent to hear speak, and more on that in a second. But what really amazed me and will make me remember this for time to come was how the session included a video presentation about the history of LGBT struggles in Colorado, an emphasis on the local that we don't always get in these kinds of spaces. Boulder, a city not too far from Denver, was the first in the country to include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination law in 1974 and had an openly gay man on city council. Shortly afterwards however, a popular vote on the ordinance was held and the sexual orientation protections were stripped - the gay council member was also recalled. Then, in 1975 the county clerk issued marriage licenses to several gay couples, which we accepted as valid until revoked by the Colorado district attorney. Consistent efforts by local activists got sexual orientation added to the city non-discrimination laws again in 1987, by popular vote! According to some sources this was the first time that happened in the US.

It seems so important to learn about this local struggles and efforts - and obviously this was only a brief overview. Sometimes it feels like we are so focused on what is going on right now - Prop 8 or ENDA or whatever - and we don't keep a historical perspective for what we are working on. A historical perspective would serve us well particularly in strategy and not repeating mistakes or making new ones. At Creating Change there was much talk about the importance of an "inclusive" ENDA, but that neglects the fact that ENDA itself focuses solely on employment non-discrimination - allowing discrimination in various other settings to continue. That's a different approach than what was used by folks to get non-discrimination laws pass in the past such as ADA or the Civil Rights Act. That was a historical decision made way back when the bill was originally introduced, but does that still make sense at this point? And with so many discussions at the conference focused on federal policy change and legislation, the logical thing to consider is: can we really legislate social change? For sure it's part of social change work, but do people, especially folks with the power and the resources, tend to see it as the whole or the bulk of social change, rather than a tool for social change?

In terms of history and social change, hearing Dolores Huerta speak certainly connected both of those. And although she didn't really knock my socks off or make me think about things in some way, it was truly beautiful to see this amazing activist, who has been doing so much for so many years. She is sweet and old, angry and fierce, really funny and clearly thoughtful. It seemed important to have her speak in that space as to remind people that issues of immigration, fair wages and working conditions, worker organizing, racism, and other crucial things are "gay" issues, need to be part of this gay agenda. Creating Change is a space where people are more likely to see those connections than other places, but it could get a lot better. At least it gave me the opportunity to see some friends, make some new ones, and enjoy the beautiful Denver. 

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Denver was the Charlie's on a Thursday night. It's a cowboy bar, and there are many amazing looking cowboys and cowbutches. Most drinks are only $2.50! There is an incredible mix of different body types and genders, as well as some straight folks in the mix and acting normal amongst mostly queers. Not many trans folks its true, but a good number of folks of color of various backgrounds. And maybe best of all there are two rooms of dancing - one a more typical club scene with top 40 hits, hip hop, R & B, but that's important. The other room however was like no where I have ever seen: a huge wooden floor where couples waltz together in a circle to country tunes or do choreographed line dancing. Phenomenal. It totally enthralled me, and I was especially excited when on a return visit a friend actually joined in even though he didn't know any of the steps. But I was content to sit and watch, soaking up the beauty of folks being free and loving. Oh and there's no cover, a $1 coat check, and a woman selling fresh burritos out front!