New EQMI Board Chair Talks Strategy

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Equality Michigan will continue the political charge for LGBTQ rights in the state of Michigan with Jim Murray as the new chairman of the EQMI board.

As the president of AT&T Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience building connections in both business and political communities, Murray is confident he will "help bring focus" to the organization. The Jackson-area native has worked in Lansing for almost two decades, learning the ways of the capitol, aiding lawmakers and influencing policy.

Murray sat down with BTL to talk about evolving as a gay Republican, how he plans to achieve full equality in the state, and what his goals are for the organization moving forward.

How do you plan to lead the organization?

I want to focus on four things. My overall reaching goal is to bring some stature back to Equality Michigan. I want EQMI to go out and raise some money and I want to set the table so that when the legislature is ready for Elliott Larsen that EQMI is a force to be reckoned with. I'm very focused on making this organization a really powerful and respected group. I also want to continue our victims services work. If whatever we're doing doesn't fit within these four categories, I don't want us to be involved in it. I'm not interested and won't spend my time worrying about it.

What is EQMI doing right now to "set the table"?

We're not out there persuading right now. We're trying to garner support so that when we can - we have forty-some new members of the House - we pretty much know where they are, the people we can go talk to. We'll get a couple at a time and when we do, we'll keep them in our back pocket. We're only going to spring when we're ready to do it and we can't be rushed just because there's clamor for something to happen. I think one of the most important things we can do right now besides raise money is work on local non-discrimination ordinances because then that builds support - little dots all over the state. Some of those are in Republican areas. It may not be ground moving, shake you at your soul change, but if we get more and more of those then you go to the legislature when the time is right. This is part of setting the table, right? Then we can say "We're in your community. That law that we're asking you to pass right now already exists for your constituents." That means a lot.

When do you think an amendment to the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act can be introduced again?

It's not going to be overnight. Anybody that thinks we're doing to do this this year, it just isn't going to happen. It's going to take many years. The earliest possible is probably 2019 and even then it depends on who wins some of the leadership positions over there, but in the meantime we need to take Equality Michigan's brand and make it mean something when the organization opposes or supports something.

Following the controversy in 2014, what lesson will you carry with you moving forward?

I learned not to be as reactionary as the reactionaries. I have to just get out there and continue with the message that we're not going to have a revolution on this. We're going to get change, but we're not going to have a revolution...I only recently came out so I haven't experienced the radical side of these issues. I just hadn't, and I didn't realize how upset people would be and I didn't have the proper vehicle to explain to everybody what was really happening, so I think I just learned not to be reactionary to the reactionaries.

What are your thoughts about the challenges ahead for bipartisan cooperation?

Everybody will start coalescing. You're always going to have those fringes on the left and the right who are never going to be a part of what's going on in the middle. I think part of the hit that I keep hearing is that "Oh my God, he's a Republican." Well, I'm going to tell you something. You can't do anything in this state without Republicans. That Senate is never going to go back to the Democrats. There's only 10 or 11 right now and the districts are drawn and they're going to redo the districts in two years and the Republicans are going to control that and so you have to be able to work with Republicans. You can't just work with the left-wing liberal Democratic legislators. You have to be able to talk to Republicans about it...so that's what we're going to do.


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