September 15, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 37
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Friday, Apr 19, 2019



Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
Social change calling
A poker player. A mom. A dedicated LGBT activist. A top-notch not-for-profit executive.

These are just a few of the ways you can describe Rea Carey, the deputy executive director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

From Carey's perspective, how she defines herself is quite clear.

"Part of what you do as a member of a community is take care of others," Carey, 39, told me. "In many ways, I can't imagine what else I'd be doing other than work that somehow makes change."

Creating change - while also the name of the Task Force's annual confab of LGBT activists - is Carey's calling. It is what fuels her commitment to LGBT issues and the work she does at the Task Force.

It all started at home in Denver, Colo. She was influenced early on by her politically active parents and the politicos who would find their way into her living room - people like Pat Schroeder and Gary Hart, who, at the time, Carey thought, were about 20 years old. "They were actually older. They were young Democrats getting elected," she said. "It left an imprint on me that people can get elected and do good for their community."

Coming out at 16, at the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, jump-started Carey's activism.

"I was affected by HIV in a very personal way - a number of my friends were getting infected. But politically and intellectually, I was impacted by the broader group of thinkers who were writing for Gay Community News (GCN) and Outlook," said Carey. Published out of Boston, GCN was one of the country's first Gay papers and was national in its scope. Outlook was a quarterly journal that began publishing shortly after the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. While neither is still around, they are both heralded in LGBT journalism circles for their ground-breaking work.

Not finding a "definable community" in 1980s Denver, Carey went to college where she was guaranteed one - Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Northampton has, in the past, been called Lesbianville in various mainstream media.

After graduation, Carey ended up in the nation's capital. "I had friends in D.C. I was just going to stay a few years. I ended up never leaving."

After 17 years of working with a host of advocacy and not-for-profit organizations - with a brief hiatus to get a Master's in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government - Carey found herself as a consultant for the Task Force.

"I have always loved the Task Force. I just love the values, the work, and the longevity. I was consulting with them, Matt [Foreman, the group's executive director] came on board, and I truly enjoyed working with him," she explained. "After a while, we both agreed it would be great if I came on as deputy executive director."

That happened in February of 2004, and Carey couldn't be happier. She and Foreman work hand-in-hand running the Task Force. "He's a New Yorker, but we're both from the West," she said. "We work in partnership - Matt is the more public face, but I really enjoy the internally focused and strategic work."

Carey has overseen some tremendous growth at the Task Force in her two-year tenure. "If what we wanted to do was help create political power for the community from the ground up, we needed two new program departments," she explained. In addition to the Policy Institute, which serves as an LGBT think tank, and the Organizing and Training department, the Task Force's two new departments are Public Policy & Government Affairs and Movement Building.

The public policy department is not just about monitoring legislation, but about getting federal resources and funds flowing to local LGBT organizations, she explained. Along with that work, the movement building initiative brings the Task Force's expertise to the local level.

"We've always been focused on the grassroots, and now we're able to provide resources and give attention to the state and local organizations and to the infrastructure of the movement." To start, the Task Force is working with five statewide groups in Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, and Kentucky. "Over time, we'll hone the model to benefit other state organizations."

Carey may seem to be married to her work, but in reality she's in a committed relationship with Margaret Conway, a DDB Worldwide executive who creates advocacy campaigns. They met at a Lesbian poker game 12 years ago, have been together for six, and are raising a daughter.

"I'm both proud and lucky to have been at the right place at the right time to be able to participate in one of this country's key social justice movements," she said. "The ability to actually live the values that I grew up with, that I got from my parents and my community, is what I certainly hope we pass along to our daughter."

If her daughter is anything like her, I'm sure Carey has a budding activist on her hands.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at

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