Sara Van Wormer is head of the new Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy. The 32-year-old Ferndale resident began the project with hopes that it would help to educate legislators, media and courts about LGBT issues.
1) Why did you decide to start working with the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy?
When I was growing up, I had a strong interest in social justice. Every book report, term paper or essay I wrote was about people or groups of people who experienced some kind of discrimination. Although my full-time job is that of a counselor, this project has allowed me to step out of the office, engage with the community and tap into that “do the right thing” part of my personality. I also feel strongly that visibility matters (numerous studies have shown that if someone knows a gay, bi or transgender person, they are much more likely to feel positively about the LGBT community). The film Milk also inspired me to get involved.
2) What’s so important, in your opinion, about disseminating information on LGBT issues?
As a counselor, I have seen first-hand the effects of bias in our society. I myself had to find ways to cope with this during my own coming out experience. There are many studies that show how discrimination and/or lack of protection for human rights have negatively affected LGB T people. I feel it is extremely important that this kind of information be presented to the public so that they can make informed decisions when establishing, or voting on, public policy.
3) How does what the MPIPP does fit into the lobbying and activist work done by groups like the Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality?
Our goal is to become actively involved with the advocacy groups across Michigan including Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality. We are willing to aid their lobbying efforts by calling on our volunteer’s vast clinical knowledge and expertise. MPIPP volunteers include professionals such as psychologists, therapists, researchers and college professors that have a special interest in LGBT issues. They come from all over the state of Michigan and are willing to help in any way that they can. Currently, we are working on educating the citizens and city commission members in Kalamazoo to help re-pass the equal rights ordinance. This year we also plan to focus attention on second parent adoption rights and anti-bullying legislation. Ultimately, we hope to establish and maintain partnerships with Michigan advocacy groups for many years to come.
4) What are the frustrations of working in your field in a state like Michigan, where LGBT rights lag far behind?
I enjoy living in Michigan, but it is difficult to see the lack of education and awareness of LGBT issues. There is so much research highlighting the positive aspects of our community, and yet so many people remain unaware and cling to prejudicial views. It hits home hardest when I am working with a client who is coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. I often hear comments like, “My church will think there is something wrong with me,” “my parents think I need medication,” or “I guess I won’t get married or be able to have kids after all.” My goal is to help them fight through that stigma to see that their lives can be healthy and fulfilling.
5) What LGBT rights issue is most important to you?
I feel very strongly about LGBT rights issues that directly affect a person’s economic stability. Historically, all forms of discrimination have sought to limit the financial strength of certain groups of people, especially ethnic minorities and women. It seems ridiculous to me that I could be fired because the person with whom I am in a committed relationship is a “she.” Or that I am not allowed the same tax breaks or can’t be carried on an insurance policy because my significant other is female. Again, this is why educating the public is so important.
The goal of MPIPP is to provide people with valid social science data and statistics regarding LGBT people to positively impact the public’s view of the community and, ideally, help shape policy.
For more information, e-mail Sara Van Wormer at [email protected]