By Emily Dievendorf
I left the “strictly political” world in 2010, without hesitation, to join Equality Michigan. I brought with me the assertion that we must be at the table to weigh in on social justice fights in general and, as importantly, we must invite people to our movement because freedom and equal protection under the law regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or HIV status truly is a battle that everybody has a stake in.
At this point in Michigan history our allies are scattered throughout Michigan broadly and overwhelmingly. While the LGBT community in Michigan makes up approximately 3.8 percent of the state’s population, recent polling supports that at least 65 percent of Michigan residents support equality on all fronts for LGBT communities – including in parenting, relationship recognition, domestic partner benefits, hospital visitation access, and protection from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. Last year 44 percent of Michiganders supported marriage equality, today that number is over 56 percent. I am always thrilled with this progress but never surprised.
I have rarely had the door shut on my request to share what the LGBT community needs and how somebody can help. I have found reasonable people, strong in their ethics and sense of fairness for all Michiganders in every corner. Regardless of faith or lack of faith, privilege or lack of privilege, political affiliation or political ambivalence, I find people in OUR corner. I insist on giving Michigan citizens, and leaders, the opportunity to show us or tell us who they are and I remain committed to sharing the unique stake each person or interest has in equality and fairness for all. At Equality Michigan our passion is justice for the sake of justice, for others the motivation is economic development, or social stability, or cultivating a social and political climate that our college students do not want to flee. I’m comfortable with all of those justifications. They are all valid and essential to bringing back our state and reversing the damage done by years of ignorance and prejudice.
Michigan citizens continue to match the rest of the nation in its enthusiasm to keep evolving and improving upon itself. However, our government’s lack of progress on granting basic civil rights to LGBT people, our conservative leaders’ conscious and destructive coddling of extremist efforts to harm LGBT families, and an unwillingness to look at big picture implications of poor economic and social policies are keeping Michigan in the dark ages. What we lack is not a progressive citizenry on both sides of the political aisle, but rather political leadership that owns and can harness power, a voice for us, and a spine – all at the very same time.
This year, the LGBT movement in Michigan is facing a brand new challenge. We do not need to search coyly or frantically for allies to our cause. For the first time in Michigan history it is clear that most people want in on the barrier-breaking. Fair-minded citizens are craving an influential role in victories for LGBT equality. They are itching to stop the insanity, to mold Michigan into a state of which they can once again be proud, to stand up for their LGBT friends and neighbors, and to bring real change. We are encroaching on the mountaintop in great numbers, we can see the other side and are thrilled with the possibilities. Now we need to ensure that we complete the voyage on our terms – with nobody left behind.
It is time to get organized and engage everybody around us. It is past time to call an end to the turf wars. At this moment we have no choice but to take a hard look at what we can contribute, what talents we can leverage, and how our energy, skills and time can fit into the larger plan. We have no time to reinvent the wheel, work against each other or overlap purposes in any way that isn’t complimentary to the work of those also on our side. I want to see a strategic, three steps ahead, well-oiled coordinated effort in which we will all admit that everyone has a valuable place that is not just helpful but is essential to victory.
If we continue to learn from and build on both our victories and failures, and fulfill our potential, we will see real change in the coming years. Equality Michigan believes that an end to legally sanctioned firings of LGBT people is on the horizon. Laws affirming second-parent adoptions are on their way as well, finally providing legal recognition for both parents in an LGBT family. Following the federal government’s lead, Michigan is poised to amend its hate crimes law to include LGBT peoples. At this rate, and with a few victories under our belts, Equality Michigan believes we may even be able to reverse the harm done to LGBT families in 2004 with the constitutional ban on same-gender marriages as soon as 2016.
I consider myself fortunate to be leading Equality Michigan at this time in Michigan’s history. We should all celebrate the accomplishments and momentum we have achieved together. We are still here for the same thing. For the love of Michigan. For the love of love.