By Camille Serrano and Isaac James
As members of AU’s Youth Organizing Fellowship, we had the opportunity last month to represent AU at the 2023 Creating Change Conference. Hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, it’s the largest annual conference bringing together organizations and individuals working to create change on behalf of queer and trans communities. Given the ongoing attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community in state legislatures across the country, especially against trans youth, AU’s mission of keeping religion out of government resonated strongly with this broader community of change-makers.
The mission of the conference is personal for both of us. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community ourselves, participating in the conference allowed us the opportunity to learn more about the issues affecting our community while also providing the chance to share information about the importance of church-state separation and AU’s work with attendees.
Ending Discriminatory Laws
As participants in the conference, we had the chance to pick from a variety of workshops and day-long institutes that covered subjects ranging from youth organizing to sex education. A few of these workshops stood out to us. One theme of multiple workshops was SB 357, a bill that was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022 that eliminated harmful and discriminatory laws that often targeted trans people and people of color based on how they dressed and where they happened to be.
We had the privilege to hear from both the author of the bill, state Sen. Scott Weiner, and the activists who led advocacy and organizing around the bill. After multiple sessions, we left with a greater understanding about the discrimination and criminalization of activities, some related to sex work, that often create inequities revolving around the intersection of race, gender identity and sexual orientation. In another session, we had the opportunity to learn about the future of the LGBTQIA+ community as it relates to democracy, legislation and policies.
Another highlight of the conference was meeting other participants of the conference, each of whom had a unique reason and background for joining. We met young university students visiting on behalf of their Gay-Straight Alliances, professionals working to increase LGBTQIA+ representation in public office and leaders of community-based health organizations, among so many additional new friends. Creating relationships with other advocates was a powerful reminder that we can find strength within community.
Regardless of the specific topics we learned about in each session or the other participants we met, there was an overarching theme we could not avoid: It is more important than ever to push back against the forces of Christian Nationalism that so often fuel efforts to restrict rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Sharing stories, talking about the data and passing policies that will protect equality for all people is of paramount importance, as “culture war” issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity continue to absorb oxygen at the national level. For this reason, we enjoyed sharing the mission of Americans United with conference participants and it’s why AU’s mission resonated so well with many of the individuals in attendance.
We are more confident than ever that fighting for the separation of church and state will preserve and protect civil rights for our community. Creating Change served as a reminder that in our fight for church-state separation, we will continue to advocate with an intentional focus on learning and community-building.
P.S. Would you like to experience the power of connecting with fellow advocates of church-state separation, building community and learning strategies to defeat Christian Nationalism? You can next month at Americans United’s Summit for Religious Freedom.
Camille Serrano and Isaac James are members of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship. The photo depicts (from left): Camille Serrano, Dane Sherman, Ranen Miao, AU Vice President of Outreach and Engagement Brian Silva and Isaac James.