ANN ARBOR – Over two years and 3,500 volunteer hours later, the team known as The Peninsula Group presented their research and findings to 85 leaders from 31 LGBT and Ally organizations who participated in a two-day summit held at the Sheraton Four Points in Ann Arbor May 11 and 12. Funding for the Summit was provided by The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan’s HOPE Fund and The Arcus Foundation.
Long time activist and Peninsula Group member Jim Toy described the gathering as a “turning point in Michigan’s LGBT history,” and reported that participants attending the summit where “broad in their diversity of race, age, geography, gender and gender identity.”
The most significant outcome of the summit was an agreement to form an association of Michigan LGBT and Ally organizations. The association’s sole mission will be to facilitate coordination, collaboration, capacity-building and increased funding in pursuit of a common vision as follows, “Michigan will lead the country in LGBT rights and inclusiveness, ensuring that every person is treated with respect, dignity and full equality, making Michigan an attractive place to live, work and visit.”
“Bringing people together for a common purpose from all over the state and having them come to consensus on a vision for LGBT issues in Michigan is an amazing achievement,” said Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Community Center.
“It is sorely needed with a lot of organizations not understanding what each other does, so we can’t even speak about each other. The collaborative possibilities are endless if we do this right,” said Grace A. McClelland, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center.
With the adoption of Proposal 2 in 2004, a constitutional amendment that made same-sex marriage illegal in the state, the association has their work cut out for them. But rather than create a deterrent to organizing, the amendment created the foundation and environment for The Peninsula Group’s work and an opportunity to help implement a strategic plan and vision over the next decade.
“I think that all who were present took advantage of the opportunities to connect, reconnect and (I hate this word) network. Relationships were forged and strengthened,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director, Triangle Foundation.
“Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went in being skeptical, in the end I was very pleased with what took place,” added Montgomery.
Asked to comment on the significance of the weekend gathering, Kate Runyon, statewide program director of the American Friends Service Committee, LGBT Issues Program said, “The most valuable result from the summit was first understanding the complexity of the many different LGBT organizations in Michigan. Some are direct services, some are organizing groups, but our main goal is that we all want Michigan to be a better place for all of us to live, work and have families and to be protected and safe in doing this. Connecting and knowing what each of the organizations does allows us a unique way to work together instead of competing against each other.”
Over the past two years, the Peninsula Group conducted research and worked through a comprehensive process to identify and evaluate the Michigan LGBT and Ally community’s strategic options. That research was presented by TPG.
“I was not too surprised by the survey results, but was also pleased that the survey also focused on the health of Michigan’s LGBT organizations and what kinds of support is needed for these organizations in order to be effective leaders in the fight for equality,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney at the ACLU Michigan LGBT Project.
Trevor Thomas, board member of The LGBT Network of Western Michigan said, “This was the first time in history so many organizations throughout the state came together and talked about what each can do to better serve Michigan’s LGBT population. No other state has held a summit of this kind and I look forward to the long term benefits of partnering with one another to reach our shared vision.”
“I had expected that some great change would happen. I was hoping it would be something positive for everyone involved and I think that is what we accomplished over the course of the weekend,” said Runyon.
Having successfully served its mission, The Peninsula Group was formally disbanded at the close of the summit. Some members of the team will participate on the design team for the new association. The new team will help identify and recruit individuals to design the association’s structure, focus and resource requirements.
Speaking about the work of the all volunteer group these past two years, Thompson said, “It was actually more than I expected. I knew we would get the results of the survey but I was really quite impressed by all they [TPG] were able to garner from the results. I commend them on their stick-to-it-ive-ness on working on this project for two years.”
Editor’s note: Susan Horowitz was one of the founding members and organizers of a Coalition for a Fair Michigan and participated with a team of people to locate and bring together the Peninsula Group in 2005.