Equality Michigan is a mess. There. We said it.
This is not a new state of affairs for the agency, which has struggled to find its footing since before the 2010 merger between the state’s two statewide political agencies: The Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality. It is an unacceptable position to find ourselves in. Right at an historic crossroads for our state and the U.S. LGBT community, when SCOTUS is taking up same-sex marriage, we will be without leadership from our state organization again. And with less than two years until another U.S. presidential election, our statewide political organization is in disarray — a pattern that has been repeated since before the 2008 election.
The agency’s leadership track record is one of appointing a new executive director, then replacing them within two years. That’s bad for the LGBT community, and it’s bad for the stability of any long-term political strategy.
There is one group of people directly and fully responsible for this ongoing turmoil: the Board of Directors. These are good people on an individual level, dedicated to making Michigan a better place for the LGBT community. We don’t doubt this. We also acknowledge that they are in these positions of leadership — which are often thankless and invisible — as volunteers.
However, the common denominator in this executive leadership crisis is a crisis in board leadership. If Equality Michigan’s Board is truly intent on attracting the best and the brightest to lead the agency and the LGBT community, there are things the board must do to lay the groundwork for an effective organization and successful executive directorship.
Equality Michigan’s board of directors must develop a clear and measurable plan for the agency. This roadmap, to borrow the popular vernacular, must include specific and attainable goals. Where does this board envision Michigan’s LGBT community in five years? What will the political landscape look like and why? How, specifically, will this agency deliver these measurables? And, in our opinion, the board of directors must grow in size and talent if it is ever going to stop this spiral of ineffectiveness.
The agency must identify exactly how to amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Act (the civil rights act) to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. What role will the agency play in the coming year educating voters on our issues? We need specific planned outcomes to address the continuing disempowerment of the transgender community. The plan must clearly define how the agency will take ownership in, and leadership of, addressing LGBT health disparities in the state. What is the plan to mobilize LGBT people and our allies to elect more LGBT friendly people to public office at all levels of government? What are the greatest political risks facing Michigan’s LGBT population and how can they be thwarted?
There is far too much at stake to allow a rudderless statewide LGBT equality agency bob from one issue to another without any strategic priority while waiting for a new captain. It is unfair to any incoming leader to dump this quagmire in their lap and wish them luck. This board must step up to the plate and create a clear, achievable plan for victory, equality and safety in Michigan, and it must do so immediately. If it cannot, the board should be prepared to step aside. Anything less is a betrayal of the agency, the community and our state.