LGBTs Connect at Netroots Nation
More than 120 LGBT activists, bloggers, organizations, funders, and journalists from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico gathered in Detroit this past week for a day-long discussion about the future of the LGBT movement and ways to effect progressive social change within it and beyond.
Organized by Mike Rogers, vice chairman and managing director of Raw Story Media, the LGBT Netroots Connect program, now in its seventh year, has more than doubled its size from the initial 60-people meeting, which was then called the National Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative.
Since 2008, Netroots Connect has done "a great job," said Rogers, program director, in broadening the scope of the program and its participants. "Our team is no longer just bloggers, but also social media activists and more, from all over the country, engaged in social change."
"What's really important," he said is "intersectionality," the connecting of LGBT concerns with broader progressive issues, for example, economic justice, immigration reform, the labor movement, reproductive rights, affordable health care, religious liberty, and the environment, among others.
Enabling people to make personal connections, the face-to-face networking not possible through email exchanges and instant messaging, is also paramount, Rogers said, explaining, "My strength is the schmooze."
LGBT Netroots Connect was held on Wednesday, July 16, just one day before Netroots Nation (July 17-20), the annual political convention for American liberal-to-progressive activists, mostly Democrats.
LGBT Protestors Interrupt Biden's Speech
The three-day convention drew 2,000 to 3,000 attendees to the Motor City's Cobo Center, including Vice President Joe Biden who addressed the gathering on Thursday afternoon.
"This is one of those moments that people get a change to bend history just a little bit," he said. "And there are fundamental changes taking place."
Biden's speech touched on a number of LGBT themes, for instance, the importance marriage equality, non-discrimination, and full equality.
Sure enough, the vice president's remarks fell on receptive ears. "Because of you, we've recognized basic fundamental rights in the LGBT community," he said.
During Biden's speech, however, several immigration-reform advocates stood and chanted for a short time, "Stop deporting our families," before convention security and secret-service personnel escorted them out.
The protestors were from the activist groups United We Dream and GetEqual.
Netroots Connect participants said that Biden impressed them in his handling of the incident.
"I appreciate the vice president's hearing what was said," explained Todd Allen, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and Mississippi LGBT activist. "How many times does a politician have protestors hear what they are saying," and in effect say, "I feel your pain."
Sean Howell of San Francisco, founder and CEO of Hornet, a gay men's social network, said Biden's empathy touched him.
Howell was referring to the vice president's acknowledgment that he shared the protestors' sentiments, going so far as to give a personal story about "how terrible it must be to come home from school and wonder if you parents have been deported," Howell said.
That Biden said everyone should applaud the protestors resonated poignantly with Howell.
Netroots Nation also drew Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren who delivered the keynote address on Friday morning, was a big hit among attendees, and received spirited applause after speaking.
Sounding notes of unity and populism, Warren told attendees, "If we join together, we win."
The convention also drew the Rev. William Barber, the fiery African American preacher behind North Carolina's Moral Monday movement, a grassroots response to a conservative Republican take over of the state's executive and legislative branches of government. Barber's Thursday evening opening plenary keynote speech focused on economic justice as a moral issue.
In addition to educational workshops, training sessions, and panel presentations on a wide range of progressive causes, this year's Netroots Nation featured a full platter of LGBT-focused content, including caucuses for queer people of color, transgender and allies, and on equality legislation, as well as sessions about the labor movement, sex-positive talk, transgender military service, fighting religious exemptions, and fake (or junk) science.
Altogether, Netroots Nation and LGBT Netroots Connect infused attendees with new energy and enthusiasm heading into the 2014 mid-term elections.