After months of planning, Creating Change Host Committee Co-Chair Kenny Martin-Ocasio likened the national conference's arrival in Chicago to giving birth.
"It's hard to comprehend that we have arrived," Martin-Ocasio explained the week before Creating Change kicked off. "It was all kind of 'twinkles' in our heads, and all of our efforts have paid off. To see it all live, is when we'll probably understand the magnitude of our work."
Between four and five thousand participants are expected for the 2016 Creating Change conference, which will be held Jan. 20-24 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave. It's the first time that the event, organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force, has been held in the Windy City.
Numerous workshops, plenaries and other events are in the works. The first plenary, "Black Feminism and the Movement for Black Lives," features activists Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett and Charlene Carruthers, and will examine how the Black Feminist movement has influenced current social justice movements in the Black community. It takes place Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.
"The State of the Movement Address" will be delivered Jan. 22 at 1:30 p.m. by Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. She will be joined by United States Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who will discuss the Obama administration and Labor Department's work advancing LGBT equality, as well as the challenges that remain.
"Mind the Gap: Next Stop HIV" will feature Leo Moore, a clinical scholar at University of California at Los Angeles, and Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, after a luncheon that begins at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 23. Moore and Wilson will examine the challenges that remain in eliminating HIV.
The final plenary program, to be held Jan. 24 at 11:30 a.m., features the Chicago-based group Youth Empowerment Performance Project.
Co-Chair Mary Morten noted, "Many groups have come together for this, in many different ways, and I hope that the work that has gone into the conference doesn't then end with the conference."
"The Chicago Host Committee has been one of our best ever," said Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal. "They've been engaged in multiple ways, and it has been one of the most diverse host committees we've ever had. They've done a lot of great work to prepare us for what will one of our largest conferences ever."
Other host committee co-chairs, besides Morten, president of the Morten Group consulting firm, and Martin-Ocasio, executive director of Youth Service Project, include Precious Davis, assistant director of diversity recruitment initiatives at Columbia College Chicago, and Joshua Oaks, digital policy manager for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and primary communications strategist for the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance.
"Our host committee is so diverse, especially the representation that Joshua, Kenny, Mary and myself all embody," said Davis. "I think that it's a great exercise in co-existence, and [reflects how] many different people from different communities, with different backgrounds and beliefs can come together for a common purpose. ...Each of us have different talents so you're really going to see that orchestration play out in this conference."
"It's more than race and gender expression," Ocasio-Martin added. "It's about all our different skills and talents."
Roybal added, "It's representative of where we're at. Chicago is a very diverse city and the foundational pieces that the host committee has put together reflect that. Creating Change is really the most diverse space in the LGBT movementthere is real power in that."
There were some stumbles in the planning. Officials from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were originally engaged to run a workshop during the conference, which angered LGBT activists working for more equitable and transparent immigration policies. The Task Force ultimately disinvited the ICE officials.
"It was a mistake by a staff person at the Task Force," said Roybal. "We have apologized for it and corrected that. It was intended to foster and promote dialogue, but intention and impact are very different things, and we heard loudly and clearly the way that it impacted our community, so we made the choice to cancel the session. We're looking for ways to strengthen our immigration program and there will be a good amount of immigration workshops during the conference."
Workshops deal with a multitude of issues, among them fundraising, aging, religion, bisexual issues and trans issues, to name just a few.
Morten especially praised Oaks' work in putting together much of the local programming in anticipation of Creating Change. The organizers raised about $50,000 locally for the conference and had more programming proposals than any of the previous conferences.
"In a way we are often overlooked in the Midwest," she noted. "People pay attention to the two coasts, but I think people are coming because of our central location. ... It is going to be an energizing opportunity for the community."
For more information, see CreatingChange.org .