by Tara Cavanaugh
Roland Leggett is a field organizer for Equality Michigan.
1. Tell us about your job as a field organizer.
I’ve been with Equality Michigan since January of this year. Before that, I worked as a field organizer with the ACLU of Michigan. I was also an organizer with Obama for America. I’ve been in social justice for 8 years in various capacities, whether it was staff or volunteer.
In terms of my day-to-day work, one of the things that’s really fun about being a field organizer is that it varies. I do a lot of work in the community, focusing on nondiscrimination ordinances and adopting those in their cities. I work a lot with folks on the ground in cities across the state, figuring out the best way to communicate with folks in municipal government as well as the other community members, friends and neighbors.
I work with a lot of other organizations around gay and transgender equality in Michigan – other professional organizations like the ACLU of Michigan, the Ruth Ellis Center, KICK, Affirmations, the Michigan Roundtable.
2. What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
The main thing we’re focusing on right now is amending Michigan’s civil rights law, which is the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. We want to amend that law to include gender identity, expression and sexual orientation. That law provides protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, like a restaurant or a movie theater.
One way we’re working on that is to amend nondiscrimination ordinances in cities, so we’re encouraging this ground swell of support from community leaders, to show Lansing that Michigan residents want their friends and neighbors to be protected against discrimination. We’re also creating action teams across the state, where we’re encouraging folks on the ground level to start communicating with their legislators in municipal government, and their friends and family members about why it’s so important that equality be a reality here in Michigan.
3. As a field organizer, how do you convince people to be active – to have the conversations in their community, to write a letter to their legislator?
It’s really simple. You ask them and you empower them and you listen to them.
One of the best things that we can all do in supporting each other is listen to each other. Taking the time to listen to our friends and neighbors around the state, to listen to the reality of where they live, and find out how we can help each other. That makes a tremendous difference. And from that listening, figuring out that next step and taking that next step. In addition to wanting to feel empowered, people want to feel supported. The work that I do is honestly listening to what’s happening around the state and then from there working with folks on how we can move things forward, how we can create positive change. I know it sounds really simple, but it’s true.
4. Do you have any tips for young people in Michigan’s LGBT community?
I would encourage folks to first of all, commit to staying here. We need your voice, we need your energy, we need your perspective, and we need your vote. If we want to turn this state around, if we want to move Michigan forward, we need you here to vote. I’d also encourage folks to get involved. Sometimes it can be very daunting, when we know there’s so much work to be done, we know that different organizations and different communities need help. It can seem like there’s so much to do and you don’t have a lot of time to commit to that, so often folks don’t commit any time. Volunteering one hour a week, or a couple hours a month, can make a tremendous difference to the community organizations and the committees around the state that need your support. I’d encourage you to figure out what works best for you, and even if that’s just one hour a week, it makes a tremendous difference.
5. Tell us about a short documentary video you were in recently.
It was a project of Team Detroit. When Motor City Pride moved back downtown, there was a tremendous amount of support in the community and around the state. They really wanted to document that. They wanted to take a hard look at what being gay in Detroit could be. What was most exciting about that video was that a lot of folks leave the state for a lot of reasons, some economic and some social, but I think it was really neat to be able to showcase how cosmopolitan and welcoming the city of Detroit is to the LGBT community. Obviously, we’ve got a ways to go in some areas. But by and large, my life downtown – and the lives of the folks shown in the video – is great. It’s fun and it’s a great community.