A Call To Continued Action Part of Equality Celebration Gathering

By |2012-11-01T09:00:00-04:00November 1st, 2012|Michigan, News|

Former NFL Player Wade Davis was among the winners of the Equality Michigan Catalyst Awards for 2012, which were presented at the organization’s annual State Equality Celebration Oct. 27. His acceptance speech moved many in the 75-person audience, reminding them of why organizations like Equality Michigan are important in the fight for fairness for all people.
“I know what moves Equality Michigan, and I know what moves me,” Davis said. “What moves you? What social and communal issues pull at your heart? What injustices, forms of oppression, human triumphs and past atrocities or contemporary social movements awaken you from the type of sleep that those who are now awake succumb to, otherwise known as apathy?
“What moves you? When was the last time something happened in the world to disturb your comfort zone? When was the last time you decided to take a stand against wrong doing, or celebrate heroes and she-roes attempting to make our world right? When was the last time you celebrated yourself for doing good in a world that often sensationalize bad? What moves you? Or better yet, what keeps you from moving?”
Davis was in the closet as a pro-football player. But after retirement he went on to work with LGBT youth in New York City, and is now a national advocate for equal rights. He urged people to support Equality Michigan, and called for more allies to step up and fight for everyone.
Carson Borbely and Katy Butler received the Henry Messer Youth Activist Awards. The young women stood up against bullying this year when Equality Michigan Policy Director Emily Dievendorf reached out to Ann Arbor-based Riot Youth for assistance with an anti-bullying campaign. They travelled to Lansing with Equality Michigan when the legislature was considering adding a religious exemption to the state’s anti-bullying bill, standing out in the rain for hours to share their stories with lawmakers and lobbyists passing by. Dievendorf said that despite “monsoon-like” conditions, House Republicans banned the youth from coming inside the building to speak, despite allowing other groups to do so in the past. She praised the youth for their resiliency, and credited them with helping to get the religious exemption removed.
The bullying exemption is one of the issues that Equality Michigan was able to address by having a Policy Director on the ground in Lansing to respond when the government takes on issues important to the community. In addition to recruiting Borbely and Butler, Dievendorf was able to disseminate information about the flawed bill to the media, to other activists, and to those on the Equality Michigan mailing lists who were ready to stand up and be vocal at a time when the LGBT community’s position needed to be heard.
Dievendorf teared up when she presented the award, and said that she knew the youth would now be “activists for the rest of their lives.”
State Senator Gretchen Whitmer was also honored with a Catalyst Award for her work in making sure Michigan’s anti-bullying law did not provide a “license to bully” exemption. Though she could not make it to the awards ceremony, Whitmer did record a video message for the group, thanking them for their efforts as well.
U.S. Senator Carl Levin was honored for his role in repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the longstanding policy of keeping LGBT servicepeople in the closet. “Our argument was that this is the kind of value, to be able to serve honestly with people and to treat people as equals regardless of what their sexual orientation is. That’s the kind of value that men and women are fighting for.”
In addition to honoring those who have stood with Equality Michigan, the group also talked about their work and their needs in order to keep up the fight. Dievendorf explained that it was lack of voter turnout and lack of engagement with leaders once they were elected, that allowed the legislature and courts to become less progressive than the people in the state they are supposed to represent. She talked about the importance of people voting and getting their friends to vote too. She also talked about Equality Michigan’s mission.
“So we’ve done a couple things at Equality Michigan the last couple of years. We’ve decided that we need to educate the state. Because maybe we don’t know that in Michigan you can still be fired for being gay or somebody even perceiving you to be gay, or expressing your gender in a way your employer doesn’t like,” Dievendorf said. “Across the board we are lacking civil rights protections that the rest of the country does have. And Michigan needs to know about these things. We need a hate crimes law. We need second parent adoption. We need to repeal an amendment to our constitution that keeps marriage between a man and a women, but also provides an excuse for legislators to give us nothing.”
Several new board members were also introduced, and although Equality Michigan Development Director Greg Varnum did not speak at the event, he told BTL that the group is focusing on re-building the board and coming up with a vision for moving forward before beginning the search for a new executive director.

About the Author:

Crystal A. Proxmire
Crystal Proxmire is the editor and publisher of The Oakland County Times. She loves covering municipal governance and cheering on community efforts.