Stories and Street Corners: Lessons from the Conference on LGBT Equality
As a mother, lesbian, black/native American woman, religious science minister, performer, coach, and writer, I brought my share of “street corners” to the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. In the process, I glimpsed just how many more street corners are out there—and the sheer power of inclusion to bring them to the fore. First, I should explain the notion of street corners. When a traffic accident takes place at a busy intersection, everything happens so fast that no one person can say what happened for sure. To figure it out, the police interview people on all four street corners of the accident scene; from those interviews, they piece together a 360-degree picture of what happened. When explaining KJCG’s Four Corners Breakthrough, we encourage organizations to ask people for their street corners—their view of the situation—to gain a 360-degree picture as well.
This year’s Creating Change was the first ever to include a “lobby day” on Capitol Hill. On the bus into D.C. for lobby day, I sat alongside a vast diversity of people: youth still in college, young professionals, boomers like me, nonprofit community leaders, people of many genders and colors and faith traditions, those with long years in lobbying and those with no experience at all. Behind every person was her or his unique street corner; behind every street corner was the story that had shaped it.
That was where the power lay in our band of 300 lobbyists. During the training for lobby day, we heard how important our individual stories are to our cause: they give officials who support us examples to bolster their positions, and they educate—even persuade—those who can’t see the urgency of our requests. The more that people hear these stories, the more they understand the issues, and the more likely they are to lend their support.
One street corner on LGBT issues, one set of messages coming from one group of movement leaders, loses impact over time. Three hundred street corners make an impression that lasts.
And there were more street corners at Creating Change than anyone could count. Nearly 3,000 people attended the event in all, and it seemed like twice that many. Immersed in this environment of thousands of people, I saw the leaders of leather nation, Indian nations, the state department, corporations, and myriad faith traditions all under the same roof for the same reason. We were all present to exchange street corners, knowledge, and strategies. Out of those exchanges would come new initiatives, new ways of thinking, fresh energy.
There was a reason the conference was such a success. People shared themselves because they felt safe. People felt safe because they felt included—truly, radically included. The meeting floors had entirely gender-neutral restrooms. There were hospitality suites for different ethnicities, religions, physical abilities, and gender identities and expressions. There was a room for prayer and for meditation, a Shabbat service, a Muslim Friday prayer, the calling of the names of those we have lost. If anyone wants to know what true inclusion looks like, this was the place to be.
My heart and mind are full. Seeing the “better angels of our nature” in nearly 3,000 people is beyond inspiring. Talking and sharing and working with them sheds a shining light on what is possible for our future—when we include all people and listen to all street corners. That is the power of a new, more expansive, more robust WE to create the change we need.