By Lorraine Longhi, July 2015 Issue.
The power and exchange of words in today’s digital world is critical to effecting social change, as evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, which began in 2011, and the world’s recent introduction to Caitlyn Jenner, via Vanity Fair, which set internet records for clicks, views, tweets and follows.
These are just two examples of why LGBT Netroots Connect, an annual gathering that brings online and offline activists and leaders together to create change, is more relevant today that ever before.
Formerly known as the LGBT Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative, this coalition of leaders, journalists, LGBT organization staff, bloggers and activists will converge July 15 in Phoenix.
LGBT Netroots Connect, a subcomponent of the broader-reaching Netroots Nation conference, will include a day of workshops and discussions on issues vital to the heart of the community, including the future of the LGBT movement.
“One of the great things about Netroots Connect is that it’s often the first place that some really important and difficult conversations take place,” said Barbara McCullough-Jones (pictured), a senior education advisor at LGBT Netroots Connect.
McCullough-Jones is a former Equality Arizona executive director and vice chair of Arizona Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus.
Each year, approximately 100 participants engaged in a conversation about which new initiatives to pursue, including the national HIV campaign #TESTME, marriage equality and improved reporting for transgender health issues.
For Brad Delaney, LGBT Netroots Connect communications director and a long-time advocate for LGBT and progressive politics, the conference is vital as it allows voices to come together to find overlapping solutions on issues faced by the LGBT community.
“The people we bring together are allowed to build the agenda they want for the conference,” Delaney said. “That’s what’s really unique. We don’t come here expecting certain things. We come to the conference with an open mind and expect people to bring the ideas that are important to them.”
Delaney worked on the 2012 campaign to secure same-sex marriage in Washington, where that same year LGBT Netroots Connect launched Scouts for Equality, an organization comprised largely of Boy Scouts of America, to end the ban on gay members and leaders.
LGBT Netroots Connect incorporates a collection of diverse voices, Delaney said, in order to address topics that every sub-group in the LGBT community is facing.
“We have a very unique audience so we’re looking to recruit people actively engaged in their communities and the LGBT community,” Delaney said. “We want exceptional individuals who want to be at the conference to have the resources they need to be there.”
These resources include scholarships that LGBT Netroots Connect gives out to women, people of color, transgender individuals, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, undocumented immigrants and the deaf and hard of hearing.
The organization has provided more than 450 partial and full scholarships to date, and states that its goal is to have 50 percent or more of program participants be from underserved, underrepresented minority communities.
“The fact that this organization is so diverse makes the conversations and discussions we have that much richer,” McCullough-Jones said. “It’s important that we don’t all come from the city. We need these rural voices, voices of people of color, voices of allies, from all walks of life. It’s rewarding to sit back and just watch this melting pot come together and solve these issues.”
This year, issues around inclusion for those engaged in the struggle for fair immigration laws will be a big focus.
According to lgbtnetrootsconnect.org, “the struggle of LGBT equality and the development of fair immigration policies are inextricable.”
With immigration and LGBT policies in Arizona consistently in contention, LGBT Netroots Connect hopes to open new discussions about economic and legal roadblocks to equality for both groups during the 2015 conference.
By working with immigration rights organizations, Netroots Connect has been able to fund the immigration activists and leaders in the DREAMer movement to attend each Netroots Connect meeting.
Past speakers at Netroots Nation conferences have included Vice President Joe Biden and President Bill Clinton and have included interactive Q&A sessions with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and several Nobel laureates. Organizations involved with Netroots Connect include the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and the GSA Network.
“The people that you meet there are people that will stick with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “They are genuine, care about the same issues that you do and are focused on and advancing on the cause and building a community of like-minded people.”
Conference registration will be open until July 15. Reduced rates will be available for individuals who buy combined tickets to Netroots Nation and LGBT Netroots Connect.