On the Move: Creating Change With Information

From left: Melissa Grey, Diana Popp, and Judith Kovach from The Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy have forged a partnership with Affirmations Community Center. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire

With all the emotional and seemingly self-evident reasons for LGBT equality, sometimes the data-gathers get less attention than they deserve. But when it comes to convincing elected officials to craft policy, or educators to make diversity a priority, the numbers make all the difference. Those are the people who want "nothin' but the facts."
Thankfully MPIPP is happy to oblige. The Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy is the largest effort in Michigan to gather data relevant to their mission, which is to achieve equality for those who are LGBT and to reduce the stigma and discrimination that can negatively impact the mental and physical health of many LGBT individuals and their allies. They accomplish this by providing science-based information to help make data-driven public policy decisions, and to increase the public's understanding of the negative impact of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people.
With an extensive collection of studies, surveys, briefs and experts ready to answer the call to testify, MPIPP is a valuable source for those looking to prove the importance of treating people fairly. Since 2008, MPIPP has worked with the Michigan Psychological Association to preserve their collection efforts and services. Now the group is moving forward in a new partnership with Affirmations Community Center in Ferndale, and working on a new expansion of their work aimed at teaching others how to better tell their stories by mixing anecdote with evidence. A grant from the Arcus Foundation makes the new move possible.
MPIPP has three part-time employees, whose hours add up to one full-time position. However Judith Kovach, Diana Popp and Melissa Grey go beyond the call of duty to share their expertise. Each has a passion for promoting equality. Kovach, director of MPIPP, is a psychologist with a long list of titles and distinctions, including 13 years as Director of Public Affairs for the Michigan Psychological Association and another 10 years as their executive director.
Project Coordinator Melissa Grey is an assistant professor of psychology at Monroe County Community College, where she is active in the Gay Straight Alliance. She is also active in the American Psychological Association's Society for the Psychological Study of LGBT Issues as co-chair of their Public Policy Committee.
Popp brings a wide range of communications experience to MPIPP including communication project management, development of diverse print communications (such as newsletters, fact sheets, brochures, and technical manuals), development of multi-media training programs, and website content development. She has also been the executive producer of training and promotional films.

Conscience Clause Data Battle

While lobbying is off-limits because of the terms of their grant, providing data-driven evidence to lawmakers can help them make informed decisions. Many studies focus on the psychological harm done by discrimination. "One of the bills that's been very important is the conscience clause," said Kovach. "When that issue came up, the Public Policy committee started looking at that. We got input from around the country."
Their research, based evidence obtained nationwide, was presented to the Committee. The legislation was not heard by both houses last year, but it has been reintroduced again in 2013 as SB 136. The legislation would make it legal for health care workers to refuse to provide service in cases that violate their religious beliefs.
"We also offer education on the mental health implications of public policy, like the good mental health benefits of amending Elliot Larsen and the bad effects of policy like removing domestic partnership benefits," Kovach said. MPIPP also works with the Michigan Department of Education in their Sexual Minority Youth Work Group, which looks at ways to train administrators in schools how to support LGBT youth. They do trainings on college campuses, through PTAs and other educational avenues.
On top of educating legislators and educators, MPIPP is now looking at a more grassroots approach to helping others tell their stories.
"Contact theory says that when an empowered group gets to know someone from a disenfranchised group, they are much more likely to empathize with that person and group," Kovach said. Because of this, MPIPP began KUP, the Know Us Project.
KUP provides training and support for people who are willing to step up and put themselves out there by sharing their story. But it's not just the typical speakers' bureau approach. "What's unique is that we address the mental health needs of the person telling their story. It's not easy. We provide a way to cope with negative reactions. When you have conversations with people you never know how they are going to react," she said.
Using a research-based approach, KUP helps participants identify people to speak with, how to reduce the listener's levels of anxiety, and how to use words and body language that make their story-telling more effective. KUP training sessions are generally 3-4 hours long for groups of 10-30 people.
Kovach stressed that allies need to be story-tellers too, since their viewpoint may resonate with other straight people. "How does it feel if your kid comes home beaten to a pulp? How does it feel if you're a social justice worker and you see LGBT youth who are struggling?"

Great Website Resources

Beyond the trainings and support, the MPIPP website and newsletters contain a wealth of information individuals and groups can use to discuss a wide range of topics important to the LGBT community. These include: Anti-gay Ballot Initiatives, "Conversion" or "Reparative" Therapy, Employment Discrimination, Family & Parenting, Health Care, LGBT Elders, LGBT People of Color, LGBTQ Youth, Marriage Equality and Transgender Issues.
With the Michigan Psychological Association cutting back on staff and partnerships, working with Affirmations seemed like the perfect next step. Affirmations has a growing counseling program and both groups were already working together on the Older Adult Coalition.
"We're very pleased about this new partnership and excited about the opportunities that come with it", said David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations. "It not only strengthens our mental health expertise but it also provides added validity to our expanding mental health services."


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