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by Lucy Hough
The Southeast Michigan Dyke March emerged out of the passion and empowerment a group of friends felt after attending last year’s Chicago Dyke March.
“We’re not doing this for us so much, but we all experienced a dyke march before and how awesome they are and how empowering they can be,” said Eric Folkmire, networking and media chair for Michigan’s march. “We wanted to bring that feeling to the people of Detroit.”
What started as five friends driving home and wondering why Michigan doesn’t have a march has turned into a major Motor City Pride event than has garnered excitement from the LGBT community. Happening June 5 in Ferndale with a rally following, the group hopes to provide the community with an event to make Pride more than one day and give women an event centered on them.
“Our goals are to basically promote visibility of the lesbian, bisexual, transgender community as well as create an event that can be annual and not so male-focused,” Folkmire said. “A lot of events are male-focused, and we find that really unfortunate.”
Though the group approached the Triangle Foundation (now Equality Michigan) initially with the idea, they decided to take matters into their own hands to make the experience more personal for attendees, rather than it being a corporate-sponsored event.
This approach of starting an organization or event from individual passions within the LGBT community has been popping up throughout the nation as a grassroots movement some say hasn’t been seen since the anti-war efforts of the 1960s.
GetEQUAL, a grassroots organization which started after the National Equality March, is a nonviolent civil disobedience group that has recently been in the headlines. Members – who hail from all across the U.S. – have spoken out at President Barack Obama’s speeches and protested “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by handcuffing themselves to the White House fence and, most recently, by fasting throughout Memorial Day weekend.
Co-founder Robin McGehee feels that fighting for LGBT rights is especially important for individuals because though larger organizations are somewhat effective in working with politicians, she feels pressure needs to come from different places.
“The fact that there are Americans … that have less rights than our neighbors simply because of what we were born to be is a total catastrophe, a total disappointment as a nation,” McGehee said. “We should all be doing something to fight back.”
GetEQUAL’s goal is simple: to fight out loud for the equality of all people, especially the LGBT community. She said it’s important that people start demanding equality in this lifetime, and grassroots organizations can help in that effort as they take to the streets.
“I think (big organizations) have been successful at collecting donations and making friends with politicians,” McGehee said. “We have not seen, in my opinion, the large sweeping legislation that is going to protect most of our community. We’ve seen bills that take care of federal employees or just a small part of our community and not the community as a whole.”
Though financing grassroots efforts can be challenging, McGehee said, if a group of people is asking for change and there is truly a need, then the work will likely pay off. She finds that need for change in the LGBT community.
McGehee hopes to see an overall civil rights bill that provides full, equal protection for all people under civil law.
“I think we can do that,” she insisted. “We’re a great community to put on great pride festivals and events, we have an activism background – I think we just need to come together as a community and start fighting around a single message that we want to be treated equal.”
GetEQUAL’s tactics are often especially vocal and outright, inspiring people across the country to do the same.
“We can’t sit back and just take it,” McGehee said. “We have to stand up and fight for ourselves, for our dignity.”
Brooke Murphy has created an off-shoot group in west Michigan with similar ideals. Starting as a blog about regional and nationwide LGBT issues, the organization turned into a functioning organization that handles community-wide events. Ultimately, Speak Equal became a group of community organizers working to promote equality for all people.
Being a grassroots organization has been crucial to the success of Speak Equal, Murphy said.
“We’re not handcuffed by multi-thousand dollar grants, years of tradition or bureaucracy,” she said. “We’re 100-percent volunteer-based and 100-percent committed to maintaining a direct-to-community method of organizing.”
Murphy feels that sometimes the cause in larger organizations is lost in the search for funding, which has allowed for the rise in grassroots organizations where it’s the passion for change that fuels people’s efforts.
“People are starting to see that the person who is more concerned about their bi-weekly paycheck is not necessarily the same person who is most concerned about real progress or real social justice,” she said.
Social media is a huge asset to groups that are starting without much money, said Murphy. Facebook, Twitter and blogs have allowed new groups to start up without any cost and have been almost the sole means for groups to effectively deliver their message. Though opponents have voiced that it is a “tacky” way of communicating, Murphy believes it works.
“It’s been insanely effective at both increasing local awareness, as well as increasing and maintaining nationwide relationships with other grassroots organizers and organizations,” Murphy said.
Murphy insisted on the importance of equality and civil rights efforts from all angles, no matter how the word is spread.
“When I look at the logistics of the larger issue of equality for all individuals, both nationwide and internationally, I have to remember what my mother always told me: ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat,'” she said. “I will never stop listening, learning, strategizing, planning and fighting for what I believe is right. Ever.”