Equality Michigan Elects New Board Officers, Plans Million Dollar Year

By |2016-02-12T09:00:00-05:00February 12th, 2016|Michigan, News|

BY AJ TRAGER

DETROIT – In a swift move that helps set the stage for the upcoming year, Equality Michigan and Equality Michigan Action Network, the advocacy arm of the LGBT advocacy and anti-violence organization, announced Feb. 12 that its Boards of Directors have each elected a new slate of officers.
The Equality Michigan Action Network elected Michigan State Sen. Rebekah Warren as chair, Gary Reed as the vice chair, Dr. Mira Krishnan as treasurer, Sean Rhaesa as secretary and Tim Atkinson as member-at-large.
Serving on the Equality Michigan board is Dave Wait who was re-elected as board chair; newly-elected as the vice chair is Michael Rowady, and Jim Murray is the member-at-large. Both Krishnan and Rhaesa serve both boards concurrently.
“We all know that expanding civil rights protections for the LGBT community is important for the future success of our state, but the Legislature has been slow to act,” said Warren in Equality Michigan’s Feb. 12 press release. “This struggle is a political one now, and I am proud to take a leadership role in an organization that will act aggressively to ensure that all our citizens enjoy equal protection under the law.”
Michigan has a long way to go before the state can be considered LGBT-inclusive. The organization plans to continue its work seeking amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), which would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to a list of protected classes in the state. It will also work on bipartisan measures in the workforce and legislative sector to increase LGBT support throughout the state.
Executive Director of Equality Michigan, Stephanie White, told BTL that the appointment of Reed and Warren will be advantageous to the advocacy work in Lansing. For her, the strength of the board comes from the diverse perspectives and experiences of its serving members. The board now consists of both high profile Democrats and Republicans.
“I think our board needs to represent the people, be representative of the larger LGBT community and needs to represent diverse views and perspectives on how to achieve LGBT rights so we can make sure we are coming together with the best ideas possible. It’s important to have people who are strategic thinkers. For me, the biggest benefit is having these political folks,” White told BTL.
Warren is a Democratic lawmaker serving Ann Arbor who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 and is now in her second term as state Senator. She is known for her ability to work with her colleagues in the Republican party to pass critical legislation without compromising her values.
Reed, who is a partner at Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore, is the former executive director for the Michigan Republican State Committee and served as deputy director of the Senate Republican Caucus Services. He is known for his ability to find common ground among political leaders of all stripes and find successful solutions to difficult issues.
“If we are going to pass an ELCRA expansion and defeat any religious intolerance bills, those two people know as well as anybody in Lansing how to do that. Having Jim Murray and Gary Reed, who are two highly connected and respected Republicans, will help to build bridges and make the connection for other Republican lawmakers and give courage to the Republican lawmakers who do want to do the right thing and are unsure of how to do it. Jim and Gary can help them get through it, make decisions and make sense for them as politicians who need to get reelected but also want to do the right thing and move our state forward,” White said.
The bottom line, White said, is that EQMI wants to expand civil rights and that involves dealing with the people in power.
White pointed out the organization is committed to and invested in social justice and progressive values, as it works against all kinds of oppression including misogyny, racism and classism as well as fighting against homophobia.
Over the next year Equality Michigan hopes to raise and spend close to a million dollars, White told BTL. She acknowledged that it is an aggressive goal but is hopeful that LGBT and ally community members are interested in invigorating and strengthening the organization, especially as the November election draws ever closer.
EQMI is unrolling a multi-year plan to pass an ELCRA expansion. This year EQMI will focus on building the infrastructure needed in the state LGBT movement and in the organization. They have already started working with community centers in the state to take advantage of the 2016 election cycle by training volunteers to identify pro-equality voters.
The organization will be launching new collaborations and coalitions around equality issues in the near future. Already this year EQMI has partnered with LGBT Detroit and the KGLRC to launch a Queer People of Color Caucus. EQMI is working with the National LGBTQ Task Force and the Michigan Inclusive Justice Coalition, as well as working with people of faith, to do equality organizing.
White emphasized it was going to take education and lots of effort to get ELCRA protections in the state. She hopes that through the education process, the Michigan Legislature will finally take up the issue.
“We’ve seen unprecedented rates of change as communities come to embrace gender and sexual diversity. There is still so much to do. I am so happy to be able to share my experience with Equality Michigan as we continue to aspire to a Michigan where all of us truly belong,” said board member Mira Krishnan.
Thirteen members currently serve on the boards of EQMI and the EQMI Action Network. The organization’s bylaws allow for up to 30 individuals to serve. In addition to appointing the 2016 officers, the board decided to provide a one-year extension for current sitting members who may have served for multiple years. This move is to ensure the board maintains some continuity, making sure the change is orderly and healthy.
White said that the community should expect to see another wave of changes near the end of 2016 as the organization works to establish an orderly rollover of its board members.
Currently serving on the Equality Michigan board is: Dave Wait, director of Michigan DECA; Rebekah Warren, state senator; Gary Reed, partner at Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore; Joy Geng, former manager at Ford Motor Company; Chuck Otis, former marketing executive at UPS; Clif Levin, former Friend of the Court attorney at Wayne County Circuit Court; Tim Atkinson, who also serves on the board of Perceptions; Seth Davis, president of Strategic Alliance Group; Mira Krishnan, director of Children’s Services at the Hope Network; Kerene Moore, attorney at the Legal Services of South Central Michigan; James Murray, president of AT&T Michigan; Sean Rhaesa, general manager of the Associated Newspapers of Michigan Wayne; and attorney Michael Rowady.
Currently serving on the Equality Michigan Action Network Board is Warren, Reed, Otis, Levin, Atkinson, Krishnan and Rhaesa.
Visit the EQMI website for more information.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.