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By Davis Nicholas
I’m from Michigan, the land of General Motors. I grew up along I-75, right between Saginaw and Flint, where more families than not were part of and were proud of their work for GM. They made things. They were independent. They were able to provide for their families and feel good about themselves because they were contributing to something big.
My uncles were GM, and they were UAW. They never stopped talking about the importance of the union, and how it helped protect the working class. My family was far from affluent, and not too many generations ago struggled to make their way in parts of Europe before coming to America. Like many, they were drawn to America and its promise of a bigger, better life with more opportunity… if you were willing to work for it. My family was willing to work for it. We still are.
I’ve been working for it my whole life. I grew up near Flint, a place that brings a lot of images to mind. At the beginning of my life, the gears were still turning, contributions were being made to the world and people were able to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. It wasn’t easy. It was never easy. It was an opportunity to do for yourself, if you were willing to put in the work. Today, Flint is a ghost town. It is inhabited by not only the ghosts of times past, but by the shells of current residents who are left wandering the broken streets, wondering where their jobs, opportunities and hopes have gone.
We live in a state and in a country where we still carry a lot of pride. We know that times are tough, and we are going through a transition period financially and industrially, but we have hope. We are all built on the back bone of an idea that if we simply apply ourselves, put in the time and effort, that we can somehow persevere. That is what made us great in the past, and what can hopefully make us great again in the future.
I am willing to put in the work. I left my home off of I-75, nestled in between Flint and Saginaw, to attend college. I put in the work. I got my degree in psychology. I got my job working with special-needs students in Kalamazoo, providing services for a free public school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I went to graduate school and became a mental health clinician. I learned to work with people with substance abuse disorders. I’ve been sweating to help my fellow Michiganders have more quality in their lives for over 15 years.
I put in the work.
I was fired from my job. I was fired, and not because I didn’t show up, or because I wasn’t good, or because I had a bad attitude. I was fired because I am transgender, and I felt the need to be honest about my life. I wanted to live with honesty and integrity and to feel good about myself as I continued to put in the work to touch and enrich other’s lives in our struggling part of the world.
I am from here. I am you. It is 2014, and as of today, there are no civil rights protections for me in this state because I identify as transgender. I can and have been fired without just cause. I am currently not allowed to use a staff restroom at my place of employment. I cannot get married. Try to remember all the pictures you saw of those young people trying to go to school in the south in the 1960s, with angry mobs screaming at them and trying to prevent them from entering because of race. They had separate bathrooms, separate schools, different drinking fountains… and as a society we changed. It is 2014 and those things are still happening, and they happen to me and people like myself who identify as transgender every day.
This state and this country were built on the notion that we need to put in the work to succeed. We have always worked together to form the fabric of a rich, diverse, powerful fabric of society that has been able to withstand so much specifically because of our unique differences and our abilities to look past them to work together for a common goal. It is 2014, and when it comes down to it, not that much has changed.
We want happiness. We want love. We want to provide for us and ours. We don’t need handouts, but we want opportunity. There are many among us who are being prevented from reaching for that dream and not because they don’t want to work for it. We want what you want. We are the same.