What do North and South Side gays and lesbians, nonprofits such as Equality Illinois and the Gay Liberation Network, and LGBT community members from across the generational spectrum all have in common? Not much, some might say.
This weekend, the Unite + Fight: Equality Across America Midwest Conference hopes to find the common ground among them with three days of networking, activism and strategizing for the year ahead. “We’re trying to engage multiple organizations and get them to work together even if they might not [do so] normally,” Anthony Martinez says.
In 2008, Martinez, 29, an executive assistant in the Loop, cofounded LGBT Change, a nonprofit org that focuses on action-oriented events and intergenerational dialogue.
LGBT Change joins forces with Join the Impact Chicago, another local org that formed in the aftermath of the ’08 election, to copresent the conference with Equality Across America, the driving force behind last October’s National Equality March on Washington. Other such conferences are in the works, but the Midwest version is the first of its kind. “We are the guinea pig for this,” Martinez says, adding that Massachusetts, Texas, California and Florida versions are in the planning stages.
Kicking off Friday 12, the Chicago event includes workshops, seminars, live music, sketch comedy and lectures, including keynote speeches from lesbian activist Staceyann Chin and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell poster boy Lt. Dan Choi and a photo shoot for all registrants with NO H8 shutterbug Adam Bouska, who will also conduct a workshop on art and activism. The dozens of workshop topics include “Why We Need a Grassroots Movement,” “Convincing the Democrats to Take Us Seriously,” “A Conversation on Constructively Engaging the Christian Community” and “Straight But Not Narrow: How Straight Allies Can Play a Useful Role in the Movement.” The weekend will close with a screening of local filmmaker Ky Dickens’s Fish Out of Water, a doc examining the relationship between homosexuality and religion.
The point is to keep the postProp 8 momentum going in all areas of LGBT civil rights: “trying to reinvigorate the entire movement and making sure we are stopping to think and collaborate and organize so that we’re the most effective we can be as we move toward a national goal,” Martinez says.
“Is the state-by-state strategy truly working? There’s over 30 states that define marriage as between a man and a woman. How do we combat that? The only way to do that is move towards a national strategy like an equality bill where we’re included in society as full citizens. That’s what we’re really trying to get at with this conference.”
Martinez hopes the central location and affordable price ($15 for the entire weekend) will help the grassroots mission by bringing to the table folks from across the entire LGBT spectrum (and heartland), including those disenchanted with filling the coffers of some of the larger equality groups like HRC. “The only way for us to truly gain rights is to have more and more people involved, whether it’s calling your senator or taking to the streets to wave your Pride flag,” he says. “Grassroots activism helps push larger organizations because they see firsthand the frustration and the discontent. It also creates another outlet for people who maybe can’t give money and don’t want to give money to organizations that in a lot of people’s views are just corporations. So it’s helping to engage those people, too.”
Unite + Fight: Equality Across America Midwest Conference happens Friday 12 through Sunday 14.