The 31st annual Creating Change Conference, the nation’s largest LGBTQ conference, held Jan. 23-27, brought activists together from across the country to discuss freedom, justice and equality for the LGBTQ community. The event, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, was held in the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center with about 3,000 people in attendance. 

About 200 workshops and 50 events were offered at Creating Change. Participants could also attend day-long institutes, visit hospitality suites and utilize complementary wellness services. While the conference primarily focused on LGBTQ issues and recognizing individuals who are working to make a difference in the community, topics such as the #MeToo movement, reproductive rights and immigration were integrated into discussion as well.

Business senior Chandra Sahu, a Ross representative for Central Student Government, said she heard about the conference through CSG and the Spectrum Center, and attended the conference as a representative of both. Sahu said she looked forward to learning more from the conference about how she can participate in LGBTQ activism. 

“As someone who has marginalized identities because I’m black and a woman and I’m LGBTQ — those are just some of my many identities — when you’re in a position where an event happens on campus, sometimes it felt like I should respond but I didn’t know how or I’m not active enough as a justice advocate on campus,” Sahu said. “Coming to Creating Change, I wanted to tack onto what’s going on in that world and try to find tools I can use to get involved.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. spoke at Creating Change regarding her work in Congress. Originally from Detroit, Rep. Tlaib said she is driven to see residents of the community live without discrimination, oppression or bigotry.

“I want you all to know that I will continue to fight for LGBTQ rights in Congress,” Rep. Tlaib said. “We have to make sure that every piece of legislation that is taken into effect experiences the needs of our LGBTQ community.”

Shane Shananaquet, a 16-year-old transgender high school student from Adrian, Mich., was honored at the conference with the 2019 Youth Leadership Award. In addition to founding Lenawee County’s chapter of March for Our Lives, Shananaquet is an ambassador for the Tyler Clementi Foundation and a member of the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health’s youth advisory council. Shananaquet spoke about embracing his identity and using his power to fight for transgender rights.

“There is so much injustice around us,” Shananaquet said. “There is no shortage of causes for you to advocate for. Our voices count, and when we put them together we are loud. Standing up for what is right isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. Please join me. Small steps make big paths, and others will follow.”

Additionally, Jonathan Jayes-Green was honored with the 2019 Haas, Jr. Award for Outstanding LGBTQ Leadership for Immigrant Rights. Jayes-Green is the co-founder and director of UnDocuBlack, an organization for Black undocumented immigrants to connect and build communities. He said his identity as a queer Afro-Panamanian DACA recipient is central into his advocacy work.

“Our work is not done until all of us are free,” Jayes-Green said. “May our people experience freedom from our oppressors, from here in Detroit down through the southern border, all the way down to Brazil, through the Caribbean Sea, ride the waves to Palestine down to Cambodia to all across the world.”

A panel entitled “Movement Moments: #MeToo” on Saturday discussed ending sexual violence with a focus on sex education. Panel members included Ignacio G. Rivera, a filmmaker and educator, and Mia Mingus, a writer and community organizer. 

“We can’t end sexual violence if we only work with survivors,” Mingus said. “We need to open up more spaces where we can share our experiences and have those conversations about our beliefs and values.”

Rivera said the nature of sex education in the United States often leads to problems with sexual violence. 

“We often use a framework of heteronormative, cisgender sex, and that doesn’t work. We set our children up for failure,” Rivera said. “We’re so frightened of sex, but yet we are struggling every single day with sexual violence. We need to be talking about these things openly and honestly so that we can prepare and have a better understanding about how we navigate in this world.”

Before attending this year, Sahu said she had never been to the conference but had gone to other LGBTQ and diversity-focused events in the past. She said she found a sense of diversity at Creating Change and made many like-minded friends.

“Creating Change is something that’s not just for students. It’s for people of all levels and all professions,” Sahu said. “It’s much more focused in community activism, and I think that that’s something I’ve fallen out of touch with in my time at Michigan but hope to connect back with in the future. I hope to bring back the information I’ve learned here and share it with other campus leaders in Ann Arbor.”

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