Lourdes Hunter began a demonstration for more than 100 people on the fourth floor of the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott.
“We hear the beat of the drum,” the 40-year-old transgender woman said into a megaphone as another participant made music with a drum. “The beat of the drum represents our ancestors. The beat of the drum represents those who cannot be here today. Feel the beat of the drum.”
Blackout Creating Change was a demonstration for black trans lives at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference. The Jan. 20 event was calling for the Task Force to mandate portions of Creating Change ticket sales to go toward organizations led by and for trans women of color. Additionally, the demonstrators were asking the Task Force to implement a $25 registration fee for students, low-income and disabled people while providing free registration for poor trans people of color. Several participants who identified as transgender people of color spoke about their experiences with the conference.
“This conference isn’t catered to us,” Hunter said to the demonstrators. “It’s catered to cis white gay affluent LGBT people.”
Maxwell T. Isaac, a black trans masculine person, organized the demonstration with Hunter.
“The space is inaccessible due to costs,” Isaac, 23, said. “If you are a student or someone who is low-income or a person with a disability, you’re facing other major financial costs and the cost is simply too high. People have to make rent. People have to travel. People have other things on their plates and, instead, they’re worried about a registration cost to access a space. Also, when you are not centering the people who are most impacted by state-sanctioned violence, you are sending the message of violence.”
Isaac said the group was willing to work with other organizations to ensure the voices are being centered.
“We are looking forward to working collaboratively, not only with the Task Force but with any nonprofit that would like to benefit trans women of color and trans folks of color,” Isaac said. “So, it’s a collaborative process. This is not the last step. Demonstrations are the beginning and then we continue the work. So we’re looking to see how we can engineer or help to create a conference that is more accessible, that is more representative and that feels safe.”
Nayimah Sanchez, a co-chair for Creating Change’s local host committee, observed the demonstration but did not participate. She suggested organizations from different states should send one or two members from their group to conference. These members can then bring the information they learned back to their organizations.
“[They’re] organizing people to go against the Task Force and the Task Force is affording us the opportunity to have this space,” Sanchez said. “I do not support it and I’m a trans woman of color. I am oppressed. I’m working three part-time jobs. And I’m still struggling to survive. The reality is that we need minimum wage to be increased. We also need access to education. We also need access to health care. This is the place where we learn how to organize and mobilize on those particular issues, not to attack a particular organization that’s trying to bring us all together.”
In an email statement to PGN, Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal pointed out the various services Creating Change offers.
“Our goal every year is to make the Creating Change Conference as accessible and affordable as possible,” Roybal said in the statement. “About half of attendees pay discounted registration rates. For example, we offer registration scholarships and limited income/student registration rates. People under 18 and over 65 have their registration fees waived. In addition, the Task Force, in conjunction with our local host committee, provides community housing options and operates six hospitality suites for trans and gender nonconforming people, bi people, elders, people of color, youth and disabled people. The hospitality suites provide no-cost food and beverages. The conference also offers ASL interpretation, Spanish translation and other accessibility services. Finally, we are constantly trying to improve the accessibility and cost of attending the conference.”