Arts & Entertainment
All Politics is Loco: Go West
by Sean Kosofsky
Originally printed 04/10/2008 (Issue 1615 - Between The Lines News)
It seems like westward expansion is the American way. Explorers, treasure hunters, conquistadors and pilgrims came across the Atlantic Ocean searching for land, wealth and a new life. As each wave of immigrants came to the New World, word spread back in Europe about the amazing beauty and limitless potential that existed. With the right investment and careful planning, an adventure could pay off.
Of course the migration toward the Great Plains, the Rockies and eventually the West Coast was filled with pain, suffering, starvation, death and betrayal to Native Americans. But in the eighteenth century the American "west" became a metaphor for renewal, potential, hope, self determination and most of all - freedom.
Triangle Foundation has spent a year expanding into West Michigan. But unlike the treacherous journeys of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Triangle has been welcomed with open arms, by a vibrant, healthy, and incredibly creative community of LGBT individuals and allies.
On April 22nd Triangle Foundation is hosting an open house at our West Michigan office in an effort to further engage members of our community and our allies who want and need sense of community. We want people to know exactly where we are located in case they need us or want to be a part of our work. We also hope that the open house will build re-engagements for The Network (the LGBT Community center in Grand Rapids). Although our office is new, Triangle has always been active in West Michigan. We have served hundreds of hate crime and discrimination victims from Newaygo to Niles. We have lobbied elected officials from Kalamazoo to Kentwood. We have supported events from Big Rapids to Benton Harbor. But to be fair, commuting in and out of college campus meetings or bar fundraisers has never been enough. West Michigan's LGBT community needed and deserved more of a commitment from established organizations like Triangle Foundation. We heard the call and sought funding to open our first-ever field office. With funding from Arcus Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund, Triangle secured the resources necessary to hire a full-time organizer from West Michigan and open an office in the heart of East Town neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
Our first step was to hire the beautiful, brilliant and talented Colette Beighley. As the mother of a gay son and one member of a family that had been victimized by anti-gay animus in her community, we knew her story needed to be told. Next, we assembled a team of advisors from around West Michigan, so that we had valuable input on how we can be the most helpful to people living in areas as diverse as Saugatuck, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Ludington. Then we brokered a deal with the local LGBT community center, The Lesbian and Gay Community Network of Western Michigan (The Network) to renovate and rent space from them, so we could collaborate and further develop East Town's burgeoning LGBT hub. We even were joined by a new board member from Grand Rapids, Connie Thacker - a partner in the Rhoades McKee law firm.
The response has been phenomenal. In just over a year, Colette and our field office have doubled the number of donors and dollars from West Michigan. Over 1400 new people have engaged the organization and participated in our anti-bullying campaign. Colette has been the subject of numerous news stories, some of which appearing on the front page. She has been to vigils, rallies, town halls, panels, church lectures, film openings, pickets and other special events. We are part of new coalitions, and new relationships that are helping to empower local leaders to take charge of West Michigan's destiny.
I want to acknowledge that success in West Michigan is really a team effort. Existing leaders and organizations there have been making incredibly progress like when the Out and Affirmation Center entered the first-ever LGBT float in the Blossomtime Parade, or when the LGBT employees at Herman Miller and Whirlpool succeed in pushing for a 100 percent on the HRC Equality Index, or when PFLAG Lakeshore offers an outstretched arm to a struggling family, or when David Balas and John Helmrich help pass non-discrimination laws in Saugatuck and Saugatuck township, or when the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality and Arcus Foundation demanded that city officials in Kalamazoo maintain domestic partner benefits.
To celebrate these and other victories, join us at our open house. For more information contact Colette@tri.org.
.Sean Kosofsky is the Director of Policy for Triangle Foundation, Michigan's leading LGBT civil rights organization