By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
BEVERLY HILLS, Mich. – Jim Ciccone is a very nice man. His kindness is apparent in everything from the now-relaxed and joyous dog, Sydney, that Ciccone adopted from a shelter a few years ago to the approach he says he would take if given a chance to talk to the anti-family forces that pushed Proposal 2.
“I think my first thing I would want to do is listen,” to them, Ciccone said.
“I would ask them if we could … sit down and have open dialog and communication,” he said. “And come into it with effective listening so we could really try to understand each other’s side, because I think I honestly don’t understand what would motivate someone to do that.”
And now, thanks to the very forces that put Proposal 2 on the ballot, Jim Ciccone has gone to work as a leader in the LGBT community.
While kindness is his hallmark, Ciccone, 41, also has a sharp mind, organizational experience and a passion for civil rights. It is this combination of intellect, experience, and passion that has led to his position on the Strategic Task Force, a new group of LGBT community leaders (see related story here).
Ciccone, who works as a strategic planner for Ford Motor Co., said that he has been out to his friends and family for about ten years and out at work for about seven.
“And .. really, that was kind of the extent of my activism initially.”
He attempted to do outreach work with Project YES, but the available times conflicted with his work schedule.
When Proposal 2 found its way to the ballot, though, Ciccone knew he had to act.
“I was outraged at the fact that we would actually amend the constitution, the state constitution, in the United States of America, to deny a group civil rights,” he said. “I think I would have been outraged almost regardless of what group was having their rights infringed upon. But then being a gay man brought the personal component to it.”
Ciccone went from “passive activism” on Proposal 2 – emailing his network of family and friends, to full-scale involvement with the Coalition for a Fair Michigan, the group that formed to fight the anti-family proposal. Ciccone volunteered his time to go door-to-door, and also served as a poll chair on Election Day.
After the election, Ciccone said he spent “a good three-four weeks in a little bit of a mental funk,” but ultimately his natural optimism won out.
“I’m a big believer in my life that things can happen for a reason – negative things can be very strong catalysts for positive change,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of really positive social change that’s going to come out of a very negative situation.”
Ciccone has already created a positive situation out of what could have been a negative one. Of his coming out experience, Ciccone said, “The majority of it has been very positive.”
“I’ve found with most of my friends and co-workers that sharing something that potentially makes you that vulnerable kind of opens the door,” he said.
“I have lifelong friends that when I shared that I was gay, would share something also very significant that was going on in their personal life that I never knew about. So the majority of times it’s really strengthened and cemented relationships,” he added.
Ciccone said that one of his co-workers, a straight man who grew up in Saline, turned out to be a staunch and vocal ally against Proposal 2 when the initiative was placed on the ballot.
And while Ciccone’s mother had trouble accepting him at first, “she’s an educator, so when she finally kind of processed through her issues, she went out and got educated, she joined a PFLAG group, and now she’s like – just recently she was trying to set me up on a blind date with her doctor,” he said.
Ciccone became involved with the Task Force in March, which grew out of a December 2004 Project YES workshop.
While the Task Force is busy developing its vision and goals for our community, Ciccone is clear on his personal desire for equality.
“I’d like to have it be where LGBT is not an issue. I mean I’d like to have it be where we’re completely accepted and respected and recognized for all the gifts and talents we bring to the world, just like any other person,” he said.
By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman