The Creating Change conference sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is going on right now, and every year, I think that next year, I’m going to go. Truly, I am almost envious as I read friend’s Facebook posts about what they are doing there. But this year, I have a different mindset. This year, I’m glad I was right here in Pittsburgh, helping to create change locally by attending the Black and White Reunion/ Summit Against Racism. I’m thrilled many fantastic people are off at the big conference, but I am equally thrilled that today, along with a number of other queer activists, I was able to do meaningful work simply by being present and engaged with a large group of diverse women and men from around Western PA.

This was not my first time at the event, always held on the first Saturday following Martin Luther King Day. Every year, I seem to get more and more from it. My expectations have changed over the years. The day can seem a bit chaotic and unfocused, even when there is an overarching theme of ending racism. But what I’ve come to appreciate is how much listening and being in dialogue with folks I might not otherwise see is a really valuable part of creating change. No- it is possibly the most essential part of making change, because in that listening is an opportunity for voices which are generally never heard, to be heard and that will change the status quo.

The base, systemic ways that racism and white dominance prevail in our culture are the exact same ways that heterosexual privilege exists so invisibly that most people do not believe that it exists. This structural support for white male privilege is the cultural piece that must change for true equality of all types. Few people stop and ponder why Martin Luther King was so active in the labor movement, or the anti-war movement, and it was precisely because these “invisible” structural inequities are the very enemies of freedom and fairness.

Today, in the far right, tea party type efforts to hinder voting rights, squash women’s rights and defeat gay and lesbian equality this underlying systemic white dominance is at work. It seems to stymie progress and maintain the status quo. Sometimes it is easy to see, and at others, more covert, but it is the same either way.

So, I’m happy to be present and a part of a larger diverse movement that is seeking to unlock and encourage equity by valuing diversity and demanding change. We are not black activists and women’s activists and gay activists- rather we are all individuals working together toward dismantling the status quo that oppresses and maintains power as it has been for too long, in a way that suppresses real freedom, opportunity and equality.

While action items grow out of events like the Black and White Reunion, I’d almost call those of secondary importance to the possibility for a change in perspective that the participants can achieve. The problems we seek to combat are not simple, and have no easy fix, but rather require constant effort to shift away from complacency and allowing ourselves to be victims to the systemic power models that keep things as they are. And events like the Black and White Reunion emphasize that it is not color alone that separates us. Perhaps for too long, we saw these struggles as being about color, or gender, or sexuality, when it reality, the power dynamics of suppression are the same. The solution is to work together, regardless of these superficial differences like skin color or body type or what have you.

Action however is needed too, and that can start with you, getting engaged in a local group. We affect change by working together, seeking small as well as large changes, but most importantly, by working together. The time for separate silos of actions is behind us. Real freedom for all of us will come by working together.

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