Stories Create Change

Fenton has a long tradition of attending the Creating Change conference, the largest gathering of progressive LGBT leaders and their allies hosted each year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This year, I was honored to attend, leading workshops with Fenton partners on the LGBT Donor Project as well as our work with Transgender Law Center and Basic Rights Oregon on communication strategies for talking about healthcare coverage.

As you might imagine, being at a family reunion of 4000+ LGBT colleagues, friends, partners and allies is always rife with laughter and fabulousness. Not to mention deep learning, debate, skill-building, and discourse on maintaining momentum for the LGBT movement.

Yet on top of that, I was struck by the power of simply having a place where the diverse stories of LGBT people are reflected and celebrated. In one session, writer and activist Charles Stephens said, “There is no culture without our stories. And no resilience without our culture. Our resilience is thus rooted in the passing down of our stories.”

At Fenton, we are passionate about stories. Stories open hearts and minds. Stories help organizations unify. Stories change the landscape for marginalized people. But all of these approaches to storytelling are about external audiences.

Mr. Stevens gave me a new reason to be a story champion. Stories are powerful not just to change the conversation, but to remind us who we are and where we have come from. And this simple truth was so evident in a space like Creating Change.

In a community that has been silenced or hidden for centuries, we can make the mistaken assumption that gay culture is something that’s only really developed in the years since Ellen came out. Yet our culture is shaped by all who came before us. From Bayard Rustin to Eleanor Roosevelt, from Ma Rainey to Michelangelo. By telling their stories, we are building, reclaiming and relearning our culture.

During the opening plenary, Laverne Cox wowed a packed audience with her honesty, grace, and vision. (I highly recommend you watch her speech here.) She told stories about the beauty, the struggle, and the resilience of transgender women, particularly transgender women of color. The next afternoon, as I walked through the lobby, I saw Laverne surrounded by enthusiastic fans, including many transgender and gender-variant youth of color. I marveled to myself that even three years ago, those youth didn’t have a Laverne to look up to. But now, knowing her story can help them stay resilient in the face of hatred.

Everywhere I went at Creating Change, I listened carefully to the stories I was hearing, and also reflected on the voices that still aren’t present, in the hopes that we’ll continue to unearth and raise up their stories – ones that need to be heard and told. I brought back to my work at Fenton a renewed passion for building the storytelling skills of our partners and clients who are making social change. Because stories can and do change the world.