Finding Unlikely Allies at Creating Change 2024

By Fey Cardenas and Cedric Lawson

Creating Change is an annual event that lives up to its name. The conference — hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, a Leadership Conference coalition member — brings together thousands of LGBTQ+ activists and advocates, as well as their allies, who are invested in securing civil rights and affirming human rights for LGBTQ+ people.

Creating Change is the nation’s foremost political, leadership, and skills-building annual conference for the LGBTQ+ movement and is the largest LGBTQ+ conference in the United States. The conference, which this year was held in the lively and historic city of New Orleans, offers an opportunity for activists and advocates across the country to meet each other, to share what campaigns are happening in their areas, and to learn from each other while creating bonds that can last a lifetime and change the course of our campaigns to affirm the civil and human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.

At this year’s conference, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights co-hosted a workshop — “Unlikely Allies: Building Coalitions Beyond LGBTQ Organizations” — alongside Keith Thirion of Alliance for Justice and Meg Simons of the People For the American Way. The workshop focused on drawing from experiences working with allies in diverse, multi-issue statewide coalitions dedicated to advancing democracy, including in areas such as voting rights and fair courts. We focused on identifying strategies for building effective, durable relationships with constituencies outside of LGBTQ-identified people and organizations.

There is a funny irony to hosting a workshop about the importance of unlikely allies at a conference like Creating Change — at what is perhaps the country’s largest annual convergence of LGBTQ-identified activists and advocates. Creating Change is a major opportunity to build community with like-minded and similarly identifying people. However, the importance of coalition building doesn’t go away when people of similar backgrounds gather together, often known as caucusing. Caucus-like events such as Creating Change offer an opportunity for people of similar backgrounds to decide how they will engage diverse groups of people and to build momentum for our shared work to advance our priorities. Indeed, there is an opportunity to develop strategies for coalition building among people of similar backgrounds because these gatherings provide a space to develop new ideas and new approaches.

Building a coalition with partners across movements facilitates the power we all hold for a shared goal. It can span a variety of issue areas and focuses that can reach audiences that may differ from your own organization’s reach. This is a key tactic in harnessing the power of a multifaceted and diverse network of people fighting for civil and human rights. Often, we find that we have a common opposition: The same decision-makers who seek to curb voting rights or fail to hold law enforcement accountable are often the same decision-makers who ban trans people’s access to health care. While our common opposition may seek to divide us by villainizing the nation’s most vulnerable communities, there is a need to call out the scare tactics and to work together to advance civil rights for all people in the United States. We must work in coalition — and with diverse groups of people — to win.

Highlighting the need to work with many different people also highlights the ways in which we must keep in mind the many identities we each hold — not just in terms of sexual orientation and gender expression, but also in terms of income, education, race, occupation, nationality, religion or lack thereof, and more. While Creating Change is a conference for LGBTQ+ people and allies, it is also a dynamic environment that deliberately brings together LGBTQ+ people of different genders, races, nationalities, educational backgrounds, and more. The conference itself offers a space for people who may be assumed allies because they are LGBTQ+, but would not ordinarily be in the same space because they are different in every other respect. In that way, perhaps Creating Change as a conference can be an exercise in building unlikely alliances, all within a space that seeks to affirm the civil rights and humanity of all LGBTQ+ people.

During the conference’s closing plenary, advocates representing different identity groups who felt they were not being adequately represented and advocated for within the LGBTQ+ community made their voices heard. Space was provided by leadership so that the attendees could express their opinions and have a conversation about how to support queer people in all the intersectional ways they identify. The shared queer experience allowed folks to bridge the gap between understanding where those advocates were coming from and showcased our shared humanity in that moment.

The need for diverse and ever-expanding coalitions has never been more urgent. This year, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have already been introduced across the country making it harder for queer people to live their lives and erasing trans people’s access to medical care. It is vital we show up and care for each other, develop unlikely alliances, and continue our campaigns to ensure equality for all people.

Fey Cardenas is field manager and Cedric Lawson is field director at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.