We don’t need economist to tell us that the country has landed in a recession that began in December 2007. In Michigan we’ve known it all along. To paraphrase Malcom X, we didn’t land in the recession, my brothers and sisters – the recession landed on us.
Job losses, layoffs and foreclosures have been equal opportunity assailants on families both gay and straight. Non-profit organizations have seen significant drops in contributions as the needs of the community grow.
It has been especially hard on LGBT organizations that have been traditionally underfunded. Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations, Karibu House and others have always been experts at stretching the dollar but now have to be magicians to make ends meet. But with record unemployment the traditional year-end contribution bounce is more important than ever to keep doors open and programs in place.
Year-end letters are outnumbering holiday cards some days in my mailbox, with requests coming from not just LGBT organizations, but social justice agencies, various diseases advocates, the humane society and even the Carter Center.
In many instances, corporate support is also dwindling as businesses downsize, hoping to ride out the recession. Support from the auto industry has been reported to probably decrease as part of streamlining concessions made to appease legislatures deliberating their bailout loans.
But there’s no bailout in store for us, so we all will have to dig a little deeper, tighten our belts a little more to help our own family and community. These are scary economic times but there’s more at risk.
For years, the LGBT community has seen more progress toward equality in the business world than in the legislature. While states have denied our families equal protection, recognition of our marriages, protection in the workplace and from hate crimes, plus used anti-marriage amendments to strip domestic benefits, corporations have lead the way in instituting nondiscriminatory policies, diversity programs and partner benefits.
HRC’s Corporate Equality Index shows an unprecedented 260 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent, up from 195 last year, which should bode well for the LGBT community. Following the lead of these major businesses – many in the Fortune 500 – many smaller companies have incorporated more fair-minded policies in the workplace. These policies have allowed more and more LGBT Americans to be out in the workplace, an action in and of itself that promotes equality. It is a proven fact being out is one of our greatest tools to end discrimination and promote equality.
Unfortunately, this month there have been 85,753 layoffs (and the month’s only half over) at America’s 500 largest public companies. Companies like AT&T, DuPont, JP Morgan Chase, Viacom, PepsiCo, Bank of America, Whirlpool, Anheuser Busch, 3M, Dow Chemical, GM, Ford, Cummins and Wyndham Worldwide – all scoring 100 percent on HRC’s equality index, are among the employers with layoffs in December.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid but I think we need to be afraid – very afraid – by this recession. Hard times bring out the best and the worst in people. When fighting over crumbs it is easy to turn one person against another, one race against another, and turn back the hands of time and breed intolerance.
Today many “foreign” cars, made right here in America, employing Americans, have become targets of intolerance. The current crisis in the auto industry has led to acts of vandalism on “foreign cars.” Tires have been slashed and insults, reminiscent of those smeared on foreign autos some thirty years ago, are again being scrawled on windshields and keyed in paint.
Incidents of foreign/immigrant workers being harassed by co-workers and immigration officials has not gone away but only been replaced by economic headlines in the paper. But any Monday in southwest Detroit, you will find along Vernor protests by Latino/a workers and activists against injustices suffered by this community.
Homeless families can be found in every community. Those who can move do, but what of those who can’t? These are the people coming to our centers, calling on our community for help. The youth at Ruth Ellis, the support groups at Affirmations, the callers to Karibu Houses Hotline – the numbers are growing every day. Triangle Foundation has been responding to increased reports of hate crimes, reporting a 133 percent increase in anti-LGBT crime in 2007.
In November we voted for change, but business went on as usual. Now the financial “house” is crumbling before our eyes and everything is on the line.
There’s no bailout coming for us, so we must be the change we want by truly embracing community, looking out for those most vulnerable in the LGBT community but reaching out to others in need as well. It is more important than ever to be out, to put a human face to the LGBT community to remind others that we are struggling just like them and are asking for not special rights but the same rights as every other American in good times and bad.
And in these hard times we must come together as Americans, gay and straight, to find new solutions, new ways to redefine, to rebuild and respirit our communities from the ground up. Together we can.