Sticking Up For LGBT Victims Of Violence

Yvonne Siferd is Director of Victim Services and Sara Spurgeon is a Victim Services Advocate at Equality Michigan.

(On June 5, 2013 the NCAVP Annual Report was issued. You can download the report here:

DETROIT – Victimization of LGBT people comes in many forms. Whether it's through hate crimes, discrimination, pick-up crimes, harassment, intimate partner violence or sexual assault, Equality Michigan's Victim's Service Team is there to help.
Yvonne Siferd is a graduate of Wayne State University Law School where she studied civil rights and sexuality related law. With her previous experience at Amnesty International and Wayne State University, Siferd has developed skills that make her a strong advocate for victims and their legal rights. She had interned at Equality Michigan back when it was known as the Triangle Foundation and in January she returned, taking the position of Director of Victim Services.
Sara Spurgeon is a victim services advocate who has been out and active in the LGBT communities since coming out at the age of 14. She has more than 15 years of experience in community-building, non-profit organizing, volunteerism, fundraising, event planning, public speaking, and grassroots activism within the LGBT and HIV-affected communities. She is a licensed social worker and a graduate of the Crime Victim Assistance Academy.
Together they stick up for the rights of victims and help them get the support they need.
"There is an incredible feeling of satisfaction that I'm lucky to glean from doing challenging work," said Spurgeon. "Boots forever on the ground, this job keeps my problem-solving skills well-honed. Several years of providing direct intake and services to people experiencing crises have made me well-seasoned, but not salty.
"Many people think that mucking about in the worst of what happens to – and even within – our communities is a 'hard' job. Perhaps they haven't met some of our youth, doing survival sex work for supper and a warm bed. That is hard work, folks. Though the subject matter of my work is at least indelicate, it is amazing and it keeps me humble."
Calls to Equality Michigan vary, and victims' needs are different. According to Siferd the most common victims are those of employment discrimination. This is also one of the hardest for them to help with. "Because of the way the law is, our hands are tied. We can help file an EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] complaint. We have a good relationship with the EEOC and they are working hard to try cases of LGBT discrimination as sex discrimination since there is not protected status for LGBT workers," Siferd said.
"The key is having a clear case. Discrimination is a hard thing to pinpoint. You know it's happening, but unless they say 'it's because you're gay,' there's not much someone can do. There's a lot of work that needs to be done legislatively." Sifert pointed out that another job of Equality Michigan is advocacy, which is happening thanks to the work of Equality Michigan's Managing Director Emily Dievendorf.

Harassing Neigbors

Beyond employment discrimination cases, there are many calls that involve violence and harassment. "We hear from people who say 'my neighbors are harassing me,' and from people who are victims of sexual violence," said Sifert. "I recently worked on a case that was a cyber-stalking, bullying, exploitation thing. In that instance a young bisexual client had been blackmailed online. I called up the DOJ [Department of Justice] and those agents were able to catch the guy. It was exciting to be able to help."
In addition to taking calls directly, Equality Michigan works with other community partners on referrals, and they do trainings and outreach programs. They work with the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, and recently did trainings at Out Center in Benton Harbor and with a PFLAG group. Siferd is currently working with the Stonewall Bar Association to develop a training for lawyers on the needs of LGBT clients, and her next step is to revive and revamp the organization's police department trainings.
One reason for the interest in police department trainings is because there has been an increase in complaints against law enforcement officials, with 21 percent of complaints being against first responders.
Equality Michigan was a founding member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NACAVP) and reports incidents of violence to the coalition each year. While the 2012 report has not been officially released publicly yet, Siferd shared some of the findings that Equality Michigan submitted.

Reporting Findings

"Reporting these incidents is important because it helps us identify what issues are going on and where they're happening. It tells us where we should be targeting our efforts," Siferd said.
Reporting also gives them a chance to help. "Each person's report is unique, and presents different issues that I get to research and, sometimes, to help resolve. For nearly every situation there are options to be uncovered. In each case, someone gets more than they had to begin with – and in the best of cases, both mercy and justice are served," Spurgeon said.
"Things haven't changed since the inception of this non-profit," Spurgeon continued. "We're still dying. We're still afraid to talk about what happens between the sheets or in the streets, sometimes ashamed. With me, shame does not exist – and I'm ready to help people begin to regain what was lost and live without fear again. People are safe to tell me whatever they have to say."
The majority of survivors who reported incidents to Equality Michigan identified as cisgender (80 percent), gay (45 percent), male (51.09 percent).
Lesbians were the second largest reporting population at 30 percent.
Transgender identified individuals were 10 percent of all reporting victims/survivors, however, anti-trans bias was indicated by 25 percent of all survivors. The types of violence directed toward trans people tends to be more brutal and is disproportionately large for such a small population, for example, 2 out of the 3 murders Equality Michigan reported to the NCAVP were transwomen of color. The number of anti-trans bias crimes increased from 2011 to 2012 by 32 percent.
36 percent of reporting victims/survivors were of unknown race/ethnicity, 35 percent identified as white, 24 percent identified as African-American, 4 percent identified as Latino, 3 percent identified as Native American and 5 percent identified as "other."
In terms of types of victimization, 31 percent of victims/survivors reported discrimination of some sort to Equality Michigan, which was the most reported type of victimization. 14 percent of victims/survivors reported verbal harassment in person, 12 percent reported threats/intimidation, 12 percent reported financial victimization (such as blackmail i.e. 'if you don't give me $, I'll tell everyone you are gay'), 9 percent reported some type of harassment, 5 percent reported physical violence, 3 percent reported being stalked and 2 percent reported sexual violence.

Victims of Violence can call Equality Michigan at 313-537-7000 x107 to reach Victim Services Advocate Sara Spurgeon. If there is an emergency, people should call 911. There is also an online form for reporting violence or discrimination at


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