As the founding member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Equality Michigan is committed through their Department of Victim Services to providing support and advocacy services for LGBTQ, SGL (Same Gender Loving), and HIV-affected people experiencing various forms of violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, hate violence, harassment and discrimination.
“We have an incredibly important and unique role to play,” said Stephanie White, executive director of EQMI. “We take it seriously and have invested a good amount of time, energy and resources in strengthening the depth of skills on our team and the geographic reach to serve people all over the state. We will do whatever it takes to serve the full breadth of our LGBTQ community.”
Three EQMI staff members have made this possible over the last 18 months – Director of Victim Services, Serena Johnson; Lead Victims Advocate, Genny Maze; and Transgender Victims Advocate, Jeynce Poindexter.
“I have to give credit to Serena for building this team,” said White. “She took the helm and has been spectacular at finding good people, creating an environment that is professional and collaborative, fighting for extra funding to support their work, and leading them to reach all their goals. I get nothing but great feedback from everyone who interacts with them.”
In addition to its work in Metro Detroit, the Department of Victim Services has expanded across the state already with pop-up office hours in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. A victim’s advocate visits each city at least once a month. Soon, they will establish a presence in Midland.
“We are a statewide organization and it’s not enough to say we are a statewide organization and if you need us, call us in Detroit. We do office hours in these cities as well as community events or we go speak to other people in the community,” said Maze, noting they are careful during the process.
“We don’t give a resource until we check it out first,” she said. “I don’t want a victim to come in and then I send them to a resource that re-victimizes them.”
Having Poindexter on staff as the agency’s first ever transgender victims advocate has been a real coup. The agency estimates they’ve seen a 30 percent increase in transgender clients since she started last year.
“Trans people feel safer to report the injustices and the victimization because they feel
connected with someone who is also a part of that community,” said Poindexter. “When they
look at me they somewhat look in the mirror.”
White said she couldn’t be happier to have Poindexter as part of her team.
“When I joined EQMI at the end of 2015, our community had just experienced a heartbreaking spike in violence, particularly against trans women of color,” she said. “One of my first goals and accomplishments was to increase our funding and hire a capable and respected trans woman of color to lead this work. We feel lucky to have hired Jeynce for this position. She’s just what our community needed and our work is much stronger with her skills and relationships added to the mix.”
White confirmed the organization received an individual gift of $10,000 from a family foundation at the end of 2016 and were recently awarded $60,000 from the Open Society Foundation from their Communities Against Hate grant.
“Serena and I made those pitches together,” she said. “She’s been fighting for the funding her team needs and getting results. I’m impressed, frankly.”
Maze said that she and Poindexter make good partners.
“Jeynce and I have become the Thelma and Louise of Equality Michigan,” she said. “We travel long hours. We get a lot of time to talk. We learn from each other. And we have a great leader in Serena.”
The Department of Victim Services recently inked a deal with Providence Hospitals in Southfield and Novi to train their staff.
“We’re going to be training them in diversity and inclusiveness in the emergency rooms for
transgender and gay and lesbian people,” said Maze. “They want to hang a sign that says ‘this is a safe place’ so people will open up about who they are because their medical needs may be different.”
A lot of their cases are not quick and easy fixes and can actually remain open for quite some time.
“We don’t just go in, just give a resource and we’re done with them,” said Johnson. “Our cases are long-term.”
When asked how the Department of Victim Services handles challenging cases that seem helpless, Poindexter said, “I never like to think that there is no positive resolve. I think when you come from a place of a pure heart and a sense of love and real support then you always find a way for your client. Now it may not be the result they were hoping for. But be it a bus ticket, a listening ear, a reference, a referral, a link to help…that literally can save someone’s life.”
“Then we get back out in the community and try to tear down that wall,” she said. “Do we get frustrated? Sure. But we keep going.”
DVS Office Hours
19641 W. Seven Mile Road
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Grand Rapids Pride Center
343 Atlas Ave. SE
Second and fourth Tuesday of the month until June 9, 2-7 p.m.
Second Friday of the month after June 9, 2-7 p.m.
121 S. Garfield Ave., Suite A
Fourth Monday of the month
11 a.m. – 6 p.m.